10/21/2010

Difficulties for handicapped persons using Geneva airport: not ideal!

After seeing complaints about difficulties encountered by handicapped persons flying to and from Geneva airport, I looked for the rules and regulations. Explanations.


It was a few weeks ago that a Geneva lawyer, who is also an elite sportsman, was refused boarding on an easyJet flight unless he was accompanied: he had to ask other passengers if someone would accept to accompany him. He found it degrading, as would I! Then more recently, someone wrote to this newspaper to say that when she arrived late at night from Madrid, together with her seriously physically handicapped father, the airport could not provide anyone to help her, even though help had been requested in advance: she said that Madrid airport had handled everything perfectly. They eventually left the aircraft 90 minutes late, by courtesy of the airport security service personnel.

I have done some checks of the rules and regulations valid in the European Union and Switzerland. The latest regulations date from 5 July 2006, and basically state that all efforts should be made to accommodate disabled persons and those with reduced mobility. The responsibilities are shared between the airport and the carrier airline.

The airport has to take charge of moving disabled people between the official designated point of arrival at the airport and the aircraft itself. This assistance should be free of charge and not involve any interruption or delay. There are other requirements which you may care to read in the official document.

On the airport web site a search for the word "disabled" reveals that about a year ago the airport authorities outsourced this assistance service, with the successful contractor being Swissport Geneva. The senior VP of Swissport, Ernest Hochuli, was reported as saying of this new service, baptised GVAssistance, that Geneva airport had thus "reasserted its faith in its own successful strategy of ensuring faultless ground services.". In view of this complaint, perhaps the airport should review its contract with Swissport Geneva.

Acceptance of the disabled passengers by the airlines is also obligatory, except "for reasons on the ground of safety and prescribed by law". Regrettably, this phrase of reasons of safety tends often to be invoked when other reasons do not justify actions. In the case of the Geneva lawyer, this newspaper quoted easyJet as saying that they were merely invoking a clause in the regulations which require that certain passengers with reduced mobility be accompanied. Having read the regulations, though not being a lawyer, my understanding is that any possible insistence on an accompanying person has to be explained at flight reservation time, and that the rules under which such assistance may be required (safety rules) should be publicly available.

It is recognised that rules may possibly vary from airline to airline, so I looked at the easyJet web site to see what was said. I found the relevant section, entitled "Passengers with specific requirements - disability, medical and health. in their carrier regulations. The relevant article reads as follows :-

easyJet is unable to accept those passengers with a level of disability which requires the presence of a care assistant unless a care assistant is travelling with the passenger.

Of course, this imediately raises the question of who is the judge of whether the passenger requires the presence of a care assistant. It would appear that, in the case of the Geneva lawyer, and assuming that GVAssistance would provide the necessary embarcation and disembarcation services, some easyJet persons (with medical qualifications?) unilaterally decided that he did require one even when in his seat.

I would personally like to see an open apology from Swissport Geneva and from easyJet for these two cases. However, I doubt that I will!

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