Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Airlines apply different rules on passengers with disabilities traveling to destinations other than North America

Dear Colleagues,

Not all passengers with disabilities seem to have equal rights on the ground even today. Lufthansa flight may give you best service and reasonable accommodation (compliant to ADA) when you are travelling to North America, however, if you are travelling on the same Lufthansa to India, you must be ready for sudden surprises. .. Reason.. Lufthansa remains compliant to the norms of the country it is visiting. Thanks to a weak regulator and a powerful lobby of airliners, the DGCA's CAR seems to have been tweaked to an extent that there are so many "if's" and "but's" inserted in the rules. 

The Indian regulator (the DGCA) as per the recent media reports has just escaped a downgrade by international aviation agencies especially the US Federal Aviatio nAdministration (FAA), on the grounds of strengthening the DGCA - something that remains on paper and is not implemented despite the need for a strong safety watchdog as air traffic here has grown maniforld in past seven years. 

"DGCA has been treated as just a clearing house for lucrative licences and clearances by most aviation ministers in past few years. it was only the threat of being downgraded by US to sub-Sahara African levels in terms of aviation security oversight that led to the government making plans to strengthen it" says the media report quoting sources.

Recently, through a silent notification the DGCA sought to cap the number of disabled passengers travelling on a single flight which is such a folly on the part of the regulator or perhaps the hunger for more money of the powerful guild of airliners who were successful in  pressurrizing the regulator in to it!

In a perfect world, respect for human rights is taken for granted; however, in remote areas of the world this is far from the case. The same legitimate expectation applies to access to aviation for people with disabilities; however, in this case there are even bigger surprises, often bordering outright discrimination. 

Differences in legislation sanctioning the right to access to aviation contribute to create a divide between passengers. Let’s use the following example to best understand the issue.

Passenger A is visually impaired, and is traveling with his guide dog. Passenger B suffers from PTSD and regularly travels with an Emotional support animal.

Both passenger A and B travel with Lufthansa from New York to New Delhi via Frankfurt. However, they purchased separate tickets, as they have yet to decide how long they will spend in Germany.

Lufthansa's requirements for visually impaired passengers and passengers traveling with an emotional support animal from and to the United States.
  1. Traveling with service/assistance animals : If you are bringing a service animal, we recommend that you contact us prior to traveling so that we can make the necessary arrangements. Please be advised that, as a foreign air carrier, Lufthansa is only required to allow dogs on board as a service animal. If you cannot pre-book, any Lufthansa employee will be happy to assist you at the airport.
  2. Emotional support and psychiatric service animals: Lufthansa also welcomes emotional support and psychiatric service dogs. We recommend that you contact us prior to travelling so that we can make the necessary arrangements. If you cannot pre-book, any Lufthansa employee will be happy to assist you at the airport.
Passengers A and B spend a week in Germany, and now decide to continue their journey to New Delhi. However, when they call Lufthansa they will find an unwelcome surprise, as the airline’s rules applying to all destinations other than the United States are far more restrictive.

Lufthansa's requirements for visually impaired passengers and passengers traveling with an emotional support animal  to  destinations other than North America (say India).
  1. Guide dogs and other assistance dogs: You have the option of taking a guide dog or other assistance dog with you free of charge. We recommend that you use a dog harness and muzzle. However, the number of animals allowed in the cabin is limited, so please let us know in good time if you wish to travel with a guide dog or assistance dog. Please also note that in some countries special regulations apply to the entry of animals and we recommend that you find out about the rules in advance.
  2. Therapy or Emotional Support animal (dog)It is also possible to transport a therapy or Emotional Support Animal (dog) (ESA) free of charge in the cabin. You will require confirmation from your doctor that you require an assistance dog. Please note that the dog’s suitability for transport in the aircraft cabin may be checked.

As a result of these differences in the requirements within the same airlines merely on the basis of where you are headed to, passenger A may not be able to travel to India because he did not pre notify the airline and must obtain required paperwork from the Indian embassy in Germany.

Similary Passenger B may not be allowed to travel to India because he is missing his GP’s  (General Practitioner) letter stating he requires an ESA animal to travel by air.

“LH is fully compliant with the rules and regulations of all countries in which it flies. On May 13, 2009, the U.S. Department of Transportation amended its Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) rules (otherwise known as Part 382) to apply to foreign carriers as well as adding and updating provisions on various PRM topics including ESAN/SVAN,” said a spokesperson for Lufthansa. 

“Part 382 only applies to foreign carriers on flights to/from the U.S. They do not apply on Intra-European flights or flights to other countries, which are governed by Regulation (EC) No 1107/2006. Lufthansa amended its policies regarding the transportation of SVAN and ESAN on flights to/from the U.S. in order to be compliant with Part 382.” clarified Lufthansa spokesperson.

Compliance is the logical explanation. However, the airline, able to comply with U.S. legislation, applies stricter rules on all other routes. Lufthansa’s stance is the rule rather than the exception. 

In fact, the vast majority of airlines flying from and to the United States apply different, often stricter rules on passengers with disabilities traveling to destinations other than North America which is illogical and unreasonable! 

It is high time that we raised the issue with governments and regulators. The airliners guild/  the airline industry must also consider this issue of open and irrational discrimination against persons with disabilities and set examples and best practices by enforcing and extending equal rights to all irrespective of their destinations. 

Source: Reduced Mobility Rights

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