Each year more than two million air passengers with a disability or reduced mobility take journeys in the UK. Here the CAA’s Director of Regulatory Policy Iain Osborne discusses two key enforcement powers which aim to further improve your travel experience.


We all look forward to a well deserved break. We might want to relax, feel the sun on our back and head abroad to sunnier climes. Others might prefer to explore a new city and take in some culture. Clearly the ‘world is your oyster’ and we are all here to enjoy the ride.

As a passenger with a disability or reduced mobility, you are probably more expert than most at planning your journey in advance. You may be a wheelchair user and need some help with checking-in, or you may need to advise your guide dog will also be flying. Under EU regulations all disabled air passengers are legally entitled to this support, commonly known as special assistance, however this right does depend on passengers giving airports and airlines 48 hours pre-notification of the assistance they will require.

Of course in order to successfully plan a journey and pre-notify, disabled passengers need to know what type of services an airport or airline provides. And in the 21st century our first port of call is the internet.

With this in mind, at the start of this year the CAA undertook a review of the special assistance information available on the websites of major airlines and UK airports. Our findings showed that the quality and clarity of information provided varied considerably. At its worst special assistance information lacked detail, was unclear and was even difficult to find particularly given the myriad of links, icons and adverts, which now regularly feature on websites.

As a result, from August we have been using our information duties, introduced as part of the Civil Aviation Act 2012, to improve the situation. These powers mean we can require airlines and airports to be more transparent and publish specific information.

Following an industry-wide consultation, we asked 50 airlines and all UK airports to ensure special assistance information was more comprehensive, clearer to understand and is displayed just one-click away from their website’s homepage. We also asked that websites include a helpline number, so passengers can pre-arrange special assistance and have information on how to complain.

These more comprehensive web pages will make it easier to plan your trip and allow you to choose between different airlines or airports depending on the level of special assistance available. While I am pleased to announce most businesses have made the changes, we are working with a small number of airlines and airports to bring them into full compliance.

Our second enforcement power is the result of the Civil Aviation (Access to Air Travel for Disabled Persons and Persons with Reduced Mobility) Regulations 2014, which came into effect on December 1st. This Act means the CAA now can, if necessary, go to court so as to ensure airlines or airports comply with EU regulations.

The new legal framework sets out a number of tools and will require a proportionate approach. These range from written advice and a period of consultation for first-time or irregular breaches, through to an Enforcement Order for more persistent breaches, which could result in prosecution for those which fail to comply.

We believe these powers are proportionate and give us the necessary levers to not only work with airlines and airports effectively but also secure the best outcomes for consumers.

In 2015 we will do further work to understand the levels of passenger pre-notification and look to see if there is more airlines and airports can do to increase this. In addition we will continue to review all the complaints received by our Passenger Advice and Complaints Team, and can use our enforcement powers if any patterns relating to non-compliance emerge.

The legal rights of air passengers with a disability or reduced mobility came into effect eight years ago and in that time there has been significant improvement in the quality of special assistance provided. However, it is our role, to ensure the passenger experience is further enhanced, and you can rest assured we have the tools in the box to raise those standards higher.

  • If you have a complaint relating to special assistance call the CAA Passenger Advice and Complaints Team on 0207 453 6888.