5. Transportation of Disabled Persons

People who use af wheelchair can be escorted through the airport and to the seat of the plane.

Photo: Ernst Tobisch / CPH

Developments within the airline industry have made it much easier for disabled persons to travel by air. Even seriously handicapped persons can, with thorough preparation and help, travel long distances, and indeed do so.

Nearly all airlines and airports have experience in the transportation of disabled persons and offer a variety of facilities for their benefit. There are, however, differences between countries and airlines as far as which rules and regulations apply. It is therefore necessary to prepare such journeys well in advance.


“Disabled person” or “person with reduced mobility” means any person whose mobility when using transport is reduced due to any physical disability (sensory or locomotor, permanent or temporary), intellectual disability or impairment, or any other cause of disability, or age, and whose situation needs appropriate attention and the adaptation to his or her particular needs of the service that is generally made available to all passengers. Article 2(a) of Regulation (EC) No 1107/2006.

The majority of disabled airline passengers are persons with reduced mobility, persons with sight and hearing impairments, mentally retarded persons, and persons with chronic illnesses.

Rules and regulations

In principle, the transportation of disabled persons by commercial airline is planned in a similar way to repatriation of patients using the same MEDIF.

The MEDIF form is usually completed by the treating physician. A number of airlines have produced a special form to be completed and signed as a “Solemn Declaration” by the disabled passenger.

This form can also be used to plan the journey.


New consultations with the interested parties and an impact assessment were started in 2011 in order to revise the regulation. The regulation states that: “Disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility have the same right as all other citizens to free movement, freedom of choice and non-discrimination.” Additionally, it says: “Disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility should therefore be accepted for carriage and not refused transport on the grounds of their disability or lack of mobility, except for reasons which are justified on the grounds of safety and prescribed by law.”

In the US, the rights of disabled persons are enforced by the Department of Transportation. Rules and regulations regarding air travel and disabled persons can be found on their homepage.These are based upon the American legislation from 2003: “14 CFR PART 382 NONDISCRIMANATION ON THE BASIS OF DISABILITY IN AIR TRAVEL”. This law lays down a series of requirements concerning arrangements at airports and aircraft designed to ensure that the so-called “qualified handicapped individual” has unhindered access to air travel and, where necessary, any help he or she may need. In principle, flight safety considerations are the only acceptable grounds for turning away a disabled person.

The civil aviation administration lays down rules for how many disabled persons may be carried on any given flight. At least one escort must accompany every five disabled persons or persons with reduced mobility. Rules also apply to seating.


Planning should be done well in advance if assistance is needed. Please contact the travel agency or airline in order to establish and arrange the help needed. In some cases these arrangements have to be discussed with the airline's medical officer – just like medical repatriation. The deadline for such planning is normally 48 hours before travel.

Some airlines require a MEDIF issued by the treating physician or GP. If the journey involves more than one airline, the MEDIF form must always be used. Some companies have produced an information form that is completed and signed “only” by the disabled person. Normally, this information form can only be used for journeys made on the airlines own network.

Frequent Traveller’s Medical Card – FREMEC

If a disabled person flies frequently, a so-called “Frequent Traveller’s Medical Card” (FREMEC) can be issued for a pre-determined period of time. This enables travelling without obtaining medical clearance each time. This form is issued by the airline’s medical officer.

General conditions

Facilities and service

The following facilities and services are offered by larger airports and airlines:

• Wheelchair conveyance / escort to the gate or to the reserved seat. Help when boarding the

   plane (“carry on” or “High Loader”).

• Special lounges designed for disabled and / or sick passengers.

• Transportation of wheelchair in cargo compartment. For reasons of flight safety, wet cell

   batteries may only be carried if they have been removed and stored in a special container.

• Oxygen for passengers with chronic illnesses.

• Special diet meals.

• Leg-rest on board.

• Facilities for guide dog transport.

• Intercontinental flights and large aircrafts usually carry their own wheelchairs. The aisles on

   many smaller aircrafts are so narrow that there is no room for wheelchairs.

• Own wheelchairs are normally only accepted as cargo.

• Lavatories accessible for disabled persons are only available on intercontinental flights and large


Own electrical equipment must be approved by the airline before travelling. If the equipment is battery driven, then only the use of dry cell batteries, including “sealed gel”, is allowed during the flight.


The disabled person can expect the same service on board as other passengers, no more and no less. In the planning of a disabled person’s journey, a distinction is made between self-assisted and non-self-assisted passengers.

• Self-assisted

   The definition of a self-assisted passenger is a passenger who can eat meals unassisted and use

   the lavatory unassisted. Self-assisted disabled passengers may travel alone.

• Non-self-assisted   

   A non-self-assisted passenger is a passenger who is unable to eat without assistance, who needs

   assistance to use the lavatory, or who is unable to orientate themselves within the aircraft, e.g.,

   as a consequence of serious mental disability. A non-self-assisted disabled person shall be

   escorted by a person who can assist with eating, toilet visits, etc.

A review of rules for disabled persons

Physically handicapped persons

Privately owned wheelchairs are carried in the cargo compartment and normally not in the cabin. Wet cell batteries must be carried in a special container.

Wheelchair conveyance and carriage on board can be arranged in advance.

It is seldom that there are wheelchairs on small- and medium-sized aircraft and for this reason the use of lavatories may not be available.

On large aircrafts, there are often wheelchairs and lavatories accessible to disabled persons.

Normally, no restrictions apply to self-assisted disabled persons. Any additional requirements deman-ded by the airline must be arranged by the disabled person, e.g. an escort.

Persons with impaired sight or hearing

An escort can be arranged in advance by the airline or airport.

There are normally no restrictions on the flight itself. However, the cabin crew should be informed as to the nature of the handicap. On the vast majority of routes, it is possible to bring a guide dog.

Mentally handicapped persons

Less seriously disabled persons may travel alone. If asked, the airline can arrange an escort to the gate.

Seriously disabled persons must bring an escort for the whole journey. In case of doubt, the matter should be discussed with the airline’s medical officer.

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