Back Up tackles problem of airline discrimination


Despite recent legislation aimed at ensuring fairness and equality for passengers with disabilities travelling by air, some airlines remain reluctant to carry their wheelchairs.

Back Up’s most recent ski course to Sweden in January nearly couldn’t go ahead when Scandinavian airline SAS refused to carry three of the five passengers travelling to the course. This was on the basis that their wheelchairs, if loaded upright, were too tall to fit through the cargo hold doors of the aircraft. The chairs could be loaded comfortably however if tilted on their side. Despite the practical simplicity of the solution, Back Up was met with constant refusals to carry the chairs by the booking staff. This meant the end to any hopes of attending this incredibly motivational course for many of the participants.

Eventually we sought assistance from our corporate partner Stewarts Law in a last effort to try and get the airlines to see sense. They did so, achieving a U-turn in one airline’s policy in just a few days. Peter Neenan of the Aviation Department who led the team from Stewarts Law said the following:

“Despite the obvious unfairness and discrimination of the various airline policies, the difficulty was simply that the junior booking staff, who were dealing with the charity, did not appear to have protocols in place to properly consider the situation and were unwilling to refer the issue upwards. As soon as we brought the problem to the attention of the CEO, and asked that he inject some common-sense into the process, the airline was quick to recognise and correct the problem.”

One such airline that recognised the issue once senior staff were made aware of it, was SAS. Within just a few hours of contacting the CEO at SAS, the airline had senior ground operations teams working with Stewarts Law to find a solution. With a solution found within 24 hours the flights went ahead with great success, with the airline even ensuring that the passengers did not have to disembark for the transfer.

Despite the success of the trip, other airlines continue to operate this policy and refuse to carry power wheelchairs. Stewarts Law are working with Back Up and the European Commission to ensure that these protocols amongst those airlines are corrected and disabled people are truly given the same rights to fly.