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Travel agencies warned over needs of disabled travellers
Dec 6, 2007

Travel agencies could face a fine of up to £5,000 if they fail to communicate the needs of disabled passengers to air carriers, following the introduction of new EU laws in July next year.

Agents must take “all necessary measures” to notify the airline, for example making a phone call, emailing, or filling in a box on the tour operator’s website at least 48 hours before the flight.

Travel agents may waive this responsibility if they book a package holiday with a tour operator. However, if they book a flight-only or dynamic package, they must fulfil the requirement.

Speaking at a Travel and Tourism Lawyers Association seminar, 1 Chancery Lane lawyer Jack Harding said: “This is a complete change of the legal landscape. Tour operators and travel agents will have to examine what they’re doing very carefully.

"It will no longer be appropriate to take a passive stance and wait for the disabled passenger to inform the operator of his special requests.”

If agents fail to provide information, they are potentially guilty of a criminal offence and could face a fine of up to £5,000.

Greece and Cyprus Travel Centre director Anna Mavroulakis said she was unaware of the new regulation. “If the client tells us they’re disabled we will make a request on Galileo or advise the tour operator. The new law should not make too much difference to us but it’s something agents should definitely read up on.”

Meanwhile, the first part of the new laws, which came into force in July this year, prohibits agents, tour operators and airlines from refusing a booking because of a disability. The only exception to this is on the grounds of health and safety requirements or if it is physically impossible.

ABTA legal advisor Paula Macfarlane said: “These laws could have a big impact on agents.” At the moment, ABTA provides a checklist for agents booking disabled passengers but no legislation governs the process.

Make travel websites usable to all

Travel agents and tour operators must ensure their websites are suitable for the visually impaired.

Partner at legal firm Wragge and Co David Lowe warned agents that websites had the potential to be discriminatory.

About 81% of websites do not meet the requirements of Disability Discrimination Act’s lowest accessibility standard and levels of adjustments required by law could be more significant than anticipated, said Lowe.

“Damages are available for injury to feeling and economic loss if website owners fail to make reasonable adjustments to their websites. It’s worthwhile, as disabled adults in the UK have spending power of £80 billion,” said Lowe.

Companies are at more risk if people can only book online or receive a special online discount, he added.

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