UK regulators are proposing the introduction of a ranking system to assess airlines’ ability to support and assist disabled and less-mobile passengers, similar to that which was brought in for airports nearly a decade ago.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority has detailed its proposed airline accessibility framework in a consultation document, and is inviting comments on the measure.

It says the similar framework introduced for airports in 2014 has driven “improved compliance” with UK legislation and increased the quality of assistance at many airports.

“We have been heartened by the positive and constructive way in which airports have embraced the framework and its aims,” it states.

Work to extend the initiative to airlines started in 2019 but was interrupted by the disruption from the pandemic, forcing the authority to redo some of the data-gathering when it revived the project last year.

“During our work, we have identified some issues that we consider may provide a barrier to access for some passengers,” it says.

“We also noted some inconsistencies in the application of operational policies between airlines, often because of varying interpretation of safety rules. Such inconsistencies can create confusion for passengers and potentially reduce choice for disabled and less-mobile passengers.”

BA special assistance-c-British Airways

Source: British Airways

Proposed extension of the accessibility framework to airlines follows positive results at airports

It points out that the analysis did not uncover a “sizeable” number of issues, and the authority is generally satisfied by the performance of many carriers surveyed.

But it adds that there are “sufficient concerns” for it to proceed with the airline accessibility framework.

Under the scheme, airlines would be ranked according to their performance in providing services to affected passengers in a range of areas – including ticket booking, support at the airport, boarding and access on the flight, and handling of complaints.

It also sets standards for use of assistance dogs, and gives guidance on handling mobility equipment and dealing with compensation.

“Our proposals to introduce this new framework are about holding airlines to account in meeting their obligations to disabled and less mobile passengers across all aspects of their journey,” says Civil Aviation Authority head of consumer Anna Bowles.

According to proposals in the consultation document – which is open until 21 July – airlines will be assessed on provision of essential information and website accessibility.

The authority highlights that, out of 12 airlines it surveyed most recently, half failed to meet requirements for easy-to-find online information. It adds that passengers need to be told whether the airline with which they book, and the actual operating carrier, have equivalent facilities.

Airlines will also need to meet various criteria to achieve the highest rankings in such areas as check-in, medical clearance, accompanying persons, seating and lavatory access, and support during flight disruption.