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What treatment  and regulatory requirements apply to passengers with reduced mobility on airlines ?

What treatment & regulatory requirements apply to passengers with reduced mobility on airlines ?-By Ahmed Haouaria

25 Nov 2020


Disability is not just a health problem. It is a complex phenomenon that arises from the interaction between a person's body characteristics and the characteristics of the society in which he/she lives. According to the World Health Organization WHO, there are currently more than 1 billion people with disabilities in the world and 20% of them live with great functional difficulties daily.

Passengers with reduced mobility or disabilities must be able to take flights as easily as anyone else.

They are also entitled to free assistance provided by the airline: at the airport before the flight, when boarding board, during the flight, when getting off the plane and at the airport after the flight.

This post will be devoted to Accessibility to air transport for persons with reduced mobility and people with disabilities.

We will cover the following points:

  • What is mobility?
  • What is reduced mobility?
  • What is a handicap?
  • Definition of disability according to WHO
  • PRM or disabled passenger rights traveling by plane
  • Regulatory obligations of airlines
  • Types of passengers with reduced mobility 
  • Phases of the flight of a PMR:
  1. Booking
  2. Registration
  3. Support by the assistance
  4. Onboard
  5. Disembarkation
  • Special equipment (oxygen, guide dogs…)
  • Equipment installed in aircraft

What is mobility?

Mobility evokes verbs of movement such as moving, moving around to get supplies, to study, to work, for services, for leisure, for meetings ...Mobility is therfore  central to daily life.

Being mobile is also being invisible in society, it is existing in public space. On the opposite, being immobile results in spatial and social isolation.

What is a person with reduced mobility PRM?

The term PRM is broader and covers all people who have difficulty moving in an unsuitable environment. A person with reduced mobility is anyone who is temporarily or permanently hampered in their movements, whether due to:

  • Body size
  • Health conditions: llness,
  • Overweight
  • Age
  • Permanent or temporary disability

Many factors can therefore intervene in motor impairment, but also blindness, deafness, pregnancy, serious injury, transporting a child using a stroller, the use of a suitcase, or even difficulties in understanding the language ...

For these people, each trip can be a difficulty if the arrangements required by law are not put in place. These particular situations seriously reduce the equality of opportunities in everyday life.

What is a handicap?

Oxford defines handicap as follows;mental condition that makes it difficult or impossible to use a particular part of your body or mindCambridgea condition in which part of your body or mind has been permanently damaged or does not work normally. This word is now considered offensive by many people, who prefer the word disability: a physical handicapIn cases of severe mental handicap, constant supervision is recommended.In the Anglo-Saxon countries, disability is a social disadvantage for which society is partly responsible: if the disability is not the only fact of the person but is also attributable to society, the struggles for reducing handicaps will no longer have people as their sole target (rehabilitation, individualized and categorized care, etc.) but also social and city organization.The definition of handicap is therefore different from the meaning of the term PRM. A disability is a limitation of activity due to an impairment of one or more functions. The concept of disability covers several forms of impairment:

  • Motor handicap
  • Visual handicap
  • Hearing handicap
  • Psychic handicap
  • Mental handicap

Disability according to WHO

The definition of disability according to the WHO includes 3 dimensions which reveal as many components of the handicap. These concepts are:

- Deficiency: "In the field of health, deficiency corresponds to any loss of substance or alteration of a function or a psychological, physiological or anatomical structure. ”

 - Incapacity: ”In the field of health, and incapacity corresponds to any partial or total reduction (resulting from an impairment) in the capacity to perform an activity in a normal way or within the limits considered as normal, for a human being. ”

- The disadvantage: ”In the field of health, the social disadvantage of an individual is the prejudice resulting from his impairment or his incapacity and which limits or prohibits the performance of a role considered normal, taking into account age, sex and socio-cultural factors ”To overcome the challenges that people with disabilities face, interventions to remove environmental and social barriers are needed.

PRMS/passengers with disabilities rights on airlines

To benefit from assistance as a PRM, it is highly recommended to contact the airline, or the tour operator at least 48 hours before departure to explain the type of assistance required. They should provide information about your wheelchair or other mobility aid device as well as, if applicable, the wheelchair batteries. A passenger cannot be denied boarding a flight on the pretext that he/she has mobility problems, except for safety reasons, if the plane is too small, or if the safety rules prevent the airlines to transport PRM.

Regulatory obligations of airlinesThe airline must establish procedures for the transport of passengers with reduced mobility.The airline must ensure that passengers with reduced mobility are not assigned seats or occupy seats where their presence could:

  • hinder the crew members in their tasks;
  •   bstruct access to safety equipment or;
  •   slow/impede with the emergency evacuation of the airplane.

The presence on board of passengers with reduced mobility must be reported to the captain.A member of the cabin crew, or failing that the flight crew, must provide the passenger with reduced mobility and his companion with the necessary information on the path to take to the appropriate emergency exit and on the best moment to start heading towards it.Under normal circumstances, persons with reduced mobility should not be seated near an emergency exit.The number of persons with reduced mobility should not exceed the number of able-bodied persons capable of assisting them in the event of an emergency evacuation.

Types of passengers with reduced mobility

Airlines use an international system of codes to identify the level of assistance that each person with reduced mobility needs:

•  BLND: visually impaired or blind passenger, with or without a guide dog.

•  DEAF: hard of hearing or deaf passenger.

•  DPNA: passenger with an intellectual or behavioral disability.

•  WCHR: passenger who can go up or down a staircase and move alone in the cabin, but

needing a wheelchair or any other means of transport between the plane and the terminal, to

inside the terminal or between the arrival and departure points of the airport.

•  WCHS: passenger needing assistance to climb or descend stairs, a wheelchair or any other means of transport between the aircraft and the terminal, inside the terminal or between

the points of arrival and departure from the airport, but can move alone in the cabin.

•  WCHC: fully immobile passenger who can only move in a wheelchair or using similar means, and who needs help at any time from the moment he arrives at the airport until to its installation in its place on the plane, including the seats adapted to his situation.


Phases of the flight of a PRM


Whatever the disability or reduced mobility, a passenger must first (at the time of booking and at least 48 hours before) inform the airline of his/her specific assistance needs and the equipment to be taken on board to avoid any denied boarding. The airline company may ask for medical documents or forms concerning the material to be transported (dimensions of the wheelchair, type, and power of the battery, etc.) to ensure that the flight safety conditions and the dimensions allowing its boarding are respected. The airline will then validate the passenger's reservation and indicate the procedure to be followed on the day of the flight. In case of refusal to validate the reservation, the airline must provide a justified reason for this refusal in writing.


Like everyone else, PRMs have to go to check-in to collect boarding cards and put their luggage in the luggage hold. In general, When the passenger is disabled and in need of assistance, the airlines invite them to check-in at least 90 minutes in advance. The wheelchair will be tagged for check-in even if it is left at the disposable of the passenger up to the aircraft door. For wheelchairs or other battery-powered equipment, they will be taken immediately and the airline will provide a manual wheelchair for circulation within the airport. 

Support by assistance

Usually, there is a boarding lounge in the airport dedicated to welcoming and assisting people who need it. This will be the meeting point or the waiting place for the concerned passengers to be picked up to go through airport security procedures and go to the departure lounge.

For the security check, if the passenger cannot get up from the wheelchair to go through the metal detector gantry, a security guard (of the same sex will then have to do the check manually. The passenger will then be accompanied to the lounge) and wait until it's time to get on board. PRM passengers are usually pre-boarded.

If the plane is aligned at the jet bridge, access will be via a Boarding Bridge, which is the most practical case. If not, assistance will take the passengers off the terminal to take an ambulift to take them to the plane while the other passengers take a shuttle/bus. An ambulift is a vehicle designed to ensure turn-around times as well as comfortable boarding and disembarking for passengers with reduced mobility. The ambulift commutes between the terminal and the aircraft and can be climbed up to the door of the aircraft. The PRM passenger will keep his wheelchair or the one provided by the assistance in the ambulift. Once onboard the aircraft, the passenger will then have to be transferred to a wheelchair which passes in the aisle between the seats of the aircraft and which allows him/her to be transferred to the dedicated seat on board.


It is important that all passengers, regardless of their disability and as long as they have correctly requested it when booking, receive personalized assistance, onboarding, onboard, and disembarkation.

Meal trays must be served in closed packaging for hygiene reasons and safety rules. When requested, the cabin crew should assist these passengers to open the package of meal trays and should describe the food, including its location on the tray to visually impaired passengers and pass regularly to check for any possible need.

It is important to know that in most airlines if the passenger cannot move alone in the cabin, the use of a wheelchair to the toilet is impossible. It is, therefore, necessary to foresee the probable time that it will be necessary to stay on board and to avoid any inconvenience, it is strongly recommended to go to the airport the toilet before boarding.

In general and for safety reasons, the PRMs will not be placed in the first row or at the level of the emergency exits.


First in but last out, on disembarkation assistance will help PRMs disembark once all passengers have disembarked from the plane. In the reverse order, the aircraft wheelchair is brought into the aisle and then the PRMs will pick up his/her manual chair or an airport chair straight out of the plane. The passenger will reach the terminal by the gangway or an ambulift and will be taken to the arrival hall to collect the luggage and personal wheelchair if this has not been done before.

The passenger will then be driven to the location of the airport of his choice. The passenger will then be driven to the location of the airport of his choice.

Special equipment: oxygen, guide dogs...

Assistance dogs can travel free of charge in the cabin. This will be subject to applied health and customs formalities. The dog training certificate is recommended at check-in. The dog can remain on the ground on board, it must be restrained for take-off and landing and also during turbulence.

Passengers who require an additional oxygen bottle must inform the airline when making the reservation. Personal oxygen bottles are not permitted onboard.

Passengers can travel with an oxygen bottle on board, provided they have the airline authorization and that they are in the airline accepted standards. The request must be made at least 48 hours before departure when booking the ticket.

Specific PRMs aircraft equipment

The accessibility of airliners to disabled people presupposes certain arrangements inside the cabin like accessible toilets, folding armrests, and onboard transfer chair.To facilitate the installation of the passengers in their seat, or to help them leave it, the Airline will ensure that at least part of the armrests of the seats located at the edge of the aisle can be raised, when the pitch between the rows does not allow any access to the seat. These seats are known to the cabin crew and systematically assigned to PRMs.The Company will strive to provide its disabled passengers the opportunity to easily use a toilet.On aircraft with more than 100 seats with two aisles, at least one toilet must be designed and fitted out for the use of a disabled person using the onboard transfer chair. This highly accessible toilet (as proposed by the manufacturers or equipment suppliers) will be indicated by the international accessibility pictogram.

Training of staff dedicated to helping people with reduced mobility 

For company staff to acquire the necessary knowledge and experience necessary to provide services to people with disabilities safely and effectively, the Company undertakes to set up a specific training program as part of initial and recurrent learning and training plans. It also ensures that the organizations to which it entrusts the training of the staff, whether internal or external, are capable of leading awareness-raising and training actions adapted to its size and organization. Basic training must is generally provided within two months of the staff taking up their duties and may, if necessary, be completed regularly as part of recurrent training, in particular when implementing new material arrangements or new regulation.  To carry out its training mission, the Company will determine, among its workforce, the personnel to be trained and then establish the specific training plan.






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