The Unfriendly Skies: United Nations' Special Rapporteur on Disability

A public and heartfelt "Thank You" to Shuaib Chalklen, the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on Disability for weighing in instituitionally on what we all know to be true individually.


The European Union's flagship laws to protect the rights of air travellers are not working, say passenger-rights advocates, in the week that the European Commission acknowledged that tougher enforcement was needed.

Shuaib Chalklen, the United Nations' special rapporteur on disability, told European Voice that airlines were not applying the EU regulation protecting the rights of passengers with restricted mobility. "Something has gone wrong. They are not applying the law."

Chalklen, a wheelchair user, said that last week Swiss International Airlines prevented him boarding a flight from London to Geneva, because he could not use the bathroom alone. "I think it is absurd. I am a paraplegic frequent flyer and I've travelled around the world on my own." After he protested, the airline allowed him to fly five days later. Chalklen said he had frequently met similar problems, especially with Lufthansa. "The legislation is fine; it is the knowledge of it that needs to be improved," he said.

Confused airlines

This week (11 April) a report from Siim Kallas, the European commissioner for transport, concluded that the airlines were confused about the 2006 law on rights of disabled people and those with restricted mobility. Some carriers "tended to mix up" flight safety with passenger comfort, such as eating and using toilets, said the report. The regulation allows carriers to act for safety reasons in exceptional circumstances - but never in relation to comfort.

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