Airport and airline services for travellers with disabilities
Under European law, people with disabilities or with reduced mobility (PRM) have legal rights to assistance when travelling by air. It’s important to let airlines know your needs at least 48 hours before you travel. Learn more about services for passengers with disabilities and additional seating fares for travel companions.
Services for passengers with disabilities
These services should be available at all European airports if you have a sensory, physical or learning disability which affects your mobility when using transport:
- facilities to summon assistance at designated arrival points, such as at terminal entrances, at transport interchanges and in car parks
- assistance to reach check-in
- help with registration at check-in
- assistance with moving through the airport, including to toilets if required
- help with getting on and off the plane
- free carriage of medical equipment and up to two items of mobility equipment
- a briefing for you and any escort or companion on emergency procedures and the layout of the cabin
- help with stowing and retrieving baggage on the plane
- assistance with moving to the toilet on the plane (some planes will have an on-board wheelchair)
- someone to meet you off the plane and help you reach connecting flights or get to the next part of your journey
Airports are responsible for providing assistance to passengers to enable people with disabilities and others with reduced mobility to board, disembark and transfer between flights.
Assistance on board an aircraft is the responsibility of the airline.
You should visit the website of your departure airport(s) to find out about the layout of the airport and where various facilities are situated. This includes check-in desks, car parking, accessible toilets, information desks and more.
You can find information about the following airports in the nidirect contacts section.
- Belfast International Airport (contacts section)
- George Best Belfast City Airport (contacts section)
- City of Derry Airport (contacts section)
- Dublin Airport (contacts section)
Travelling alone - self reliance
To travel alone, you must be able to:
- unfasten your seat belt
- leave your seat and reach an emergency exit
- put on an oxygen mask and lifejacket
- understand the safety briefing and any instructions given by the crew in emergency situations
Airline cabin crews are not able to provide personal care. For safety reasons, airlines are entitled to require that you travel with a companion if you are not ‘self-reliant’.
If you need help with feeding, breathing, using medication or using the toilet you will also need to travel with a companion.
Seating on the plane
Airlines should allow you to choose the seat most suitable for your needs. However, people with a disability or with reduced mobility are not allowed to sit in seats where they may obstruct access to emergency exits. This is because of safety reasons.
If you need to travel with a companion, the airline should make all reasonable efforts to seat them next to you. Some airlines may be able to offer a reduced fare for the second ticket. This will usually be a reduction against the full fare.
There may be a limit on the number of reduced fares they can offer on one flight. This is especially if it is a holiday package or charter flight. Ask your travel agent or the airline for more details.
The same restriction may apply in cases where the disabled traveller needs to occupy two seats for a reason related to their disability.
Where reduced fares are offered, airlines may require medical proof of your need to travel with a companion or book an extra seat. You should ask the airline or your travel agent what information you will need to give. This could be a letter from your doctor or a Blue Badge parking permit, for example.
Airlines' requirements if you have medical needs
If you have any medical needs, the airline may ask you to complete the following forms:
- Incapacitated Passengers Handling Advice (INCAD)
- Medical Information Form (MEDIF)
These are standard forms used by many airlines to help staff organise any assistance or equipment you may need during your journey and to decide whether you are fit to fly. With some airlines, the INCAD and MEDIF are two parts of the same form.
You can fill in the INCAD form yourself, but the MEDIF form must be completed by your doctor.
Most people do not have to fill in the MEDIF form, or apply for medical clearance to fly through any other procedure the airline may have. This includes people who have stable, long-term disabilities and medical conditions.
You should contact the airline and discuss your disability or medical condition with them – even if your doctor says you are fit to fly – as different airlines have different policies about carrying passengers with disabilities and people with medical conditions. The airline will be able to give you any forms they require you to complete. You can also get these forms from some travel agents.
Frequent Traveller Medical Card
The MEDIF and INCAD forms only last for one journey. If you are a frequent traveller, you can get a Frequent Traveller Medical Card (FREMEC). This is available from many airlines and gives the airline a permanent record of your specific needs. This means you won’t have to fill in a form and make special arrangements every time you fly. Before you travel with a different airline from the one that issued your FREMEC card, you should check that they will accept it.
Under European law, people with disabilities and other people with reduced mobility have legal rights to assistance when travelling by air.
The Consumer Council for Northern Ireland has useful information for air passengers with disabilities or reduced mobility concerning their rights and obligations.
What it means to travellers with disabilities
Airport operators are required to provide an assistance service to enable reduced mobility passengers to board, disembark and transit between flights. Airlines are required to provide certain assistance to passengers whilst onboard the aircraft.
Costs will be recovered through a charge on airlines proportionate to the total number of passengers they carry to and from the airport, with no charges to the passenger requiring assistance.
Passengers needing assistance must not be charged and airports must publish quality standards so that passengers can measure the service they receive against these standards.
Regulations require all staff providing direct assistance to passengers to be suitably trained - all staff will need disability awareness training.
Airlines must carry passengers' medical equipment and up to two pieces of mobility equipment free of charge. They must also carry assistance dogs free of charge (on permitted routes). For passengers, this will mean consistency across airports. Whereas previously standards may have differed, they are now set and passengers are entitled to full assistance regardless of the airport they are travelling from. Where this is not provided, they are able to take their complaints to the Consumer Council.
The Consumer Council NI has been designated as the complaints handling body for Northern Ireland and any person who feels that a breach of the EU regulation has occurred has the right to complain to the Council.