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Airlines found to be penalizing disabled travellers

14th January 2010 Print

Charity bosses are calling on airlines to stop penalizing passengers with breathing difficulties after ‘secret shopper’ research by national patient support charity, Pulmonary Hypertension Association UK (PHA-UK), launched this week at Westminster, unearthed a bewildering lottery of surcharges, policies & woeful customer service facing the estimated 90,000 potential ‘fit to fly’ disabled air travellers with lung conditions such as Pulmonary Hypertension (PH) or COPD who require supplementary oxygen in flight.  

243 MPs who have signed Early Day Motion 1444 tabled by Nick Ainger MP, calling on all airlines to allow disabled passengers requiring in-flight supplemental to either be able to use personal oxygen equipment or have oxygen provided for them by the airline, without charge will this week learn the outcome of PHA-UK research conducted by the charity's members with 71 airlines who operate from and to the UK:

- Less than a quarter of airlines surveyed supply free supplementary oxygen.
- A quarter of airlines approached do not supply supplementary oxygen at all. 
- Two thirds of airlines in the study would not allow disabled air travellers with lung conditions to bring their own oxygen for use in- flight.
- Of the airlines that provide supplemental oxygen to otherwise ‘fit to fly’ passengers and charge for it, each levies a different fee which can range from £50 to £500 per trip, just to breathe.

Nick Ainger MP, who has championed the issue in Parliament via EDM 1444 and a Westminster Hall debate is extremely disappointed at the findings. He said, "Six months after raising this in Parliament, the vast majority of airlines are still charging for supplementary oxygen and refusing permission for passengers to bring their own oxygen cylinders. They are taxing the disabled and discriminating against people who are fit to fly but have breathing problems.

“All airlines should now follow the good example set by some carriers who give disabled passengers free supplementary oxygen or allow them to bring their own cylinders or concentrators without charge.”

Commenting on the outcome of the secret shopper study conducted by PHA-UK’s disabled members, the charity’s Chairman, Iain Armstrong stated, “Since its inception 10 years ago, the Pulmonary Hypertension Association UK has provided over £60,000 worth of grants to people with PH to enable them to afford the ludicrously unfair charges levied by airlines for the provision of supplemental oxygen whilst travelling by air.   We could easily have doubled this amount if we had the financial strength to meet all the requests we’ve received. With the majority of airlines not allowing oxygen dependant passengers to bring their own supply they have no choice but to pay a substantial tax per flight to enable them to breathe.”

He added, “I was also alarmed to learn of the widespread negative attitudes towards our disabled secret shoppers and the knowledge gaps of airline personnel.  Sadly, all too often our researchers spent protracted periods of time ‘on hold’ and in some instances paying a premium rate for the privilege, speaking with an average of three different customer service staff and still not receiving the information they required.  Alarmingly, in too many instances airlines were only prepared to share their supplemental oxygen policy, if our secret shopper had bought a ticket to fly first.”

He concluded, “I believe disability rights are not about having different rights but equal rights and I call upon all airlines that provide and charge for in-flight supplemental oxygen to follow the example of British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Thomson’s and Emirates and drop these grossly unfair breathing taxes, for all airlines to allow passengers, who require supplemental oxygen to be able to use their own oxygen equipment in-flight and for the airline industry to urgently review and address the way they deal with disabled passengers, especially but not exclusively, people living who require supplemental oxygen in-flight.” 

A call echoed by the British Lung Foundation, who have been working closely with PHA-UK.

Helena Shovelton, Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: “Supplemental oxygen is as important to people with breathing problems as a wheelchair is to people who have difficulty walking.  This survey reveals the enormous challenges facing anyone who is dependent on supplemental oxygen and wants to travel by plane.  We need all airlines to make it possible for people who need oxygen and want to fly to be welcomed and helped in the same way as other disabled people, not to be penalised financially and treated as second class citizens.”

The Pulmonary Hypertension Association UK (PHA-UK) charity number 1120756 - - provides support, understanding, and information for everyone whose life is touched by Pulmonary Hypertension (PH).