Transport CommitteeWritten evidence from ABTA (DAT 44)

Introduction

1. This response is submitted on behalf of the membership of ABTA—The Travel Association. ABTA was founded in 1950 and is the largest travel trade association in the UK, with around 1,200 members and over 5,100 retail outlets and offices. Our Members range from small, specialist tour operators and independent travel agencies specialising in business and leisure travel, through to publicly listed companies and household names.

2. ABTA Members provide 90% of the package holidays sold in the UK as well as selling millions of independent travel arrangements. The provision of quality, efficient and competitively priced passenger travel is vital to the business interests of Members.

3. ABTA’s main purpose is to help our Members to grow their businesses successfully and sustainably, and to help their customers—the travelling public—have confidence in their travel experiences. To achieve this, ABTA provides advice and guidance, which includes consumer law, to Members, in order to help them comply with their obligations and provide a good service to their customers. ABTA also provides advice and information to consumers, through the ABTA website and through email and telephone contact, on their rights and obligations as they apply in the travel industry.

Existing Legislation

4. In addition to the Equality Act 2010 (replacing the Disability Discrimination Act), there is specific EU transport legislation covering the rights of disabled persons:

Air: Regulation No 1107/2006 of 5 July 2006 concerning the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when travelling by air came into force on 26 July 2008.

Rail: Regulation No 1371/2007 of 23 October 2007 on rail passengers’ rights and obligations came into force on 3 December 2009.

Maritime: Regulation No 1177/2010 of 24 November 2010 concerning the rights of passengers when travelling by sea and inland waterway came into force on 18 December 2012.

Bus and coach: Regulation No 181/2011 of 16 February 2011 concerning the rights of passengers in bus and coach transport comes into force on 1 March 2013.

5. The legislation relating to transport for disabled people is supplemented by voluntary guidance produced by various authoritative bodies.

6. First and foremost is the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) publication Accessible Travel: Updated Guidance & Information for Disabled and less mobile people http://dptac.independent.gov.uk/pubs/at/pdf/accessibletravel.pdf

ABTA’s Work in this Field

7. ABTA has a responsibility to its Members to provide information and guidance to enable them to keep up-to-date with legislation emanating from the UK and EU. ABTA also contributes to the work of other bodies to inform guidance and services.

8. On accessibility, this includes:

Guidance on the Equality Act 2010 and a practical awareness guide to equal treatment.

Specific guidance on the EU passenger rights legislation affecting Persons with Reduced Mobility (PRMs) and a Code of Practice for all those involved in the passenger’s journey including transport providers and accommodation owners overseas.

ABTA contributed to the DPTAC work and has worked with the Department for Transport (DfT) on transposing the above EU Regulations on passenger rights into UK legislation with particular emphasis on PRMs.

Working with the European Civil Aviation Conference on their guidance and contributing to the European Commission’s work.

ABTA and the EHRC have developed free online training aimed at front-line travel staff: Accessible Travel Made Easy—http://abta.com/events-and-training/training/accessible-travel-made-easy. This includes an overview of what inclusive or accessible travel means and how it can help provide good customer service.

ABTA has produced a model booking checklist which agents and operators use when taking bookings. This acts as a prompt to tease out information from the person making the booking. For example:

They may not be aware that someone in their party needs assistance.

Some passengers are proud and do not like to admit they need assistance.

They might not realise how big some airports are until they are physically there ie they become disabled by their environment.

Passengers have good days and bad days and might not require assistance all the time eg a lung condition.

ABTA works directly with airports and airlines and has been involved in airport planning issues on which passengers including PRMs are also consulted. Airport websites now show services available, distances within the terminal to the gate, etc.

9. We are well aware that a wheelchair is not the answer to every request for assistance, that many disabilities are invisible and not all passengers are accompanied by a travelling companion.

10. Due to the air legislation being the first to be enacted, ABTA has concentrated its efforts on PRMs travelling by air with experience learnt being fed into work on the other modes of transport.

11. By and large, our experience makes clear that all stakeholders involved are pulling together to give the passenger as seamless an experience as possible. We accept there will always be glitches with individual airlines/airports but we hope that these are isolated and we continue to work together to try and overcome these.

12. ABTA has done a lot of work raising awareness and making it easier for PRMs to fly. Following the implementation in July 2008 of Regulation 1107 concerning the rights of PRMs travelling by air, ABTA convened an industry group comprising the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), DfT, Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC), airlines, airports, ground handlers, tour operators, travel agents and an independent disability representative. In July 2012 the ABTA/CAA guidelines on pre-notification were published. The aim of this guidance is to support all involved when serving disabled passengers and PRMs in providing a comprehensive service to their customers, and encouraging them to identify any specific assistance needs when making a booking.

13. The onus is on the passenger to advise on the exact nature of their disability so that all concerned know that they need assistance during the journey, their accommodation, etc. Under the passenger rights legislation this must be pre-notified a minimum of 48 hours in advance and preferably at point of sale. This is particularly important for the carriage of electric wheelchairs on board aircraft as there can be constraints, driven by safety requirements, on the number of wheelchairs that may be carried on any one aircraft.

14. We would emphasise the importance of pre-notification. ABTA has recommended that priority should be given to PRMs who pre-notify over those that do not. For example, an aircraft arrives with six passengers who have pre-notified their assistance requirements but there are a further six who need assistance but who have not pre-notified. Frequently, the first six PRMs off the aircraft will receive assistance first and the others will have to wait. This might include those who have pre-notified if they are not among the first six people off the aircraft. Even if the PRM service provider at the airport has been given a list of those who have pre-notified, it can be difficult for them when they are faced with a PRM who feels they should be looked after promptly even if they have not pre-notified.

15. Some airports proactively use cards to hand to PRMs who have not pre-notified so that they know to do so the following time they travel. The ABTA PRM group is encouraging the wider use of these.

16. ABTA, its Members and the airlines consider that priority should be given to those who have pre-notified. The European Commission in their June 2012 guidelines agreed with this. ABTA has used its PR resources at every opportunity to get the message across to the travelling public about the need to pre-notify and would encourage the Government to do more about consumer awareness so that passengers are aware of their rights. We would request that the Committee lends its support to the need to pre-notify with priority being given to those who do.

17. In its June 2012 guidelines the Commission considered that children should not be excluded from the scope of PRMs. Airlines and tour operators have historically helped parents with children, if needed, as a good customer service and would, as a matter of course, look after Unaccompanied Minors. However, to regard all children as PRMs would likely have a potential negative impact on the service provided to PRMs most in need of assistance.

18. ABTA would request the Committee’s assistance in ensuring that the limited resources should be directed to those most in need of assistance eg disabled and elderly passengers.

Inquiry Questions

The effectiveness of legislation relating to transport for disabled people: is it working? Is it sufficiently comprehensive? How effectively is it enforced?

19. It is the custom of the European Commission to review regulations several years after their implementation. Accordingly, in April 2011, the Commission reviewed the operation of Regulation 1107 and decided that it had been implemented in a satisfactory manner. It identified a number of issues relating to the obligations of airlines, airports and National Enforcement Bodies (NEBs) and proposed a number of non-legislative measures to improve implementation. The Commission produced interpretative guidelines in June 2012 -http://ec.europa.eu/transport/passengers/air/doc/prm/2012–06–11-swd-2012–171_en.pdf but again did not feel the need to propose changes to the regulation.

20. ABTA believes that the legislation, supplemented by guidance, is working and is comprehensive. However, we would strongly recommend that the legislation is strengthened by priority being given to PRMs who have pre-notified their assistance requirements.

21. Regarding enforcement, in 2012 the CAA took over from the EHRC as the NEB handling any air PRM complaints. We understand that of the approximate 100 complaints received since covering all aspects of aviation only one relates to an electric wheelchair user. ABTA works closely with the CAA on PRM issues—see paragraph 12 above.

22. ABTA works closely with Member tour operators and travel agents and has a number of seminars throughout the year on complaint handling to ensure that Members are fully aware of their obligations. Our website offers general advice to all travellers whether booked through an ABTA Member or not on the best procedure to follow if there is a complaint.

23. ABTA has also been instrumental in standardising complaint handling at a European level for customers including PRMs. This includes the development of a template for capturing complaints from PRMs, and guidance for NEBs. It ensures consistency in the way complaints are handled, and in the way data is gathered, analysed and used to seek improvement in the passenger experience. This work is being undertaken through the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) PRMs sub-group and ABTA is represented on its complaint-handling working group.

The accessibility of information: including the provision of information about routes, connections, timetables, delays and service alterations, and fares

24. ABTA works closely with the Advertising Standards Authority to ensure that any material published by Members adheres not only to the ASA’s codes but also to the ABTA Code of Conduct. This includes the provision of clear and transparent information, including pricing.

25. Members are asked to state the provisions they have made so that clients with disabilities can use their brochures and other material. This could include having a large print version or putting information in an audio format.

26. ABTA Members have been encouraged to offer easy access to special assistance by prominently featuring the section concerning passenger assistance on their websites/brochures and provision of special assistance telephone line. Once they have been given the necessary information, the onus is on the agent/operator to pass that information up through the supply chain to the transport provider, port/airport and accommodation provider.

The provision of assistance by public transport staff and staff awareness of the needs of people with different disabilities

27. As mentioned in paragraph 8 above, ABTA has provided guidance on the Equality Act 2010 and a practical awareness guide to equal treatment to its Members for use by their staff. With the EHRC, ABTA has developed free online training aimed at front-line travel staff: Accessible Travel Made Easy giving an overview of what inclusive or accessible travel means and how it can also help provide good customer service.

What can be learnt from transport provision during the Paralympics and how can we build on its successes?

28. The Paralympics have significantly raised consumer awareness of disabled people across the UK.

29. Airports have invested heavily in facilities and equipment as a legacy for PRMs for the future. At Heathrow (the official host airport) this included: increasing the number of Ambi-lifts, scissor lifts, mobility buggies, lightweight aisle chairs and self-propelled wheelchairs, a free onsite wheelchair repair shop, installing new passenger lifts plus staff training on the correct way to handle PRMs and their wheelchairs. On 10 September alone (the day following the close of the Paralympics) Heathrow handled 1,007 wheelchairs on 110 different aircraft without any hitch. Gatwick (which a number of teams used) has invested in new and improved services over the past two years, including ambulance minibuses, mobility buggies, aisle chairs and wheelchairs, Ambi-lifts, dedicated seating throughout the airport for PRMs, dedicated assistance lanes and reception lounges.

30. These improvements in facilities and equipment are welcome as they provide a significant legacy for PRMs. We would encourage the Committee to recommend that the experiences of Heathrow and Gatwick are shared across other UK airports and, importantly, at destination airports. The UK has done a lot to improve the PRM experience but this is not a consistent approach across all countries.

31. Thank you for taking our comments into consideration. We would welcome the opportunity to discuss any points raised in our response further with the Committee and would urge the Committee to push for priority to be given to PRMs who have pre-notified.

January 2013

Prepared 13th September 2013