Holidays and travellers with disabilities
- This guidance is for England, Scotland & Wales
The Equality Act 2010 protects those people with defined 'protected characteristics' from unlawful discrimination. One of these protected characteristics is disability. Service providers such as tour operators, travel agents, airlines and airports must consider how travellers with disabilities access their services and make reasonable adjustments so that travellers can use services in the same or a similar way to those without disabilities.
Whether or not you are a seasoned traveller, you should research your potential destinations before committing yourself to the booking to ensure they are suitable for you and your particular requirements.
Choosing your holiday
It is advisable to check a range of information sources to build up the most accurate picture of the destination. You should have access to information in a range of formats, such as audio or large print.
The Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018 (referred to as the 'Package Travel Regulations') place information obligations on the retailer (for example, a travel agent) and the organiser (for example, a tour operator). Before the holiday contract is finalized, you must be given certain information - for example, details about the holiday, the destination, travel arrangements, price and payment. This information must be clear, prominent and understandable.
All traders are required to comply with the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, which prohibit commercial practices that are unfair to consumers. If a trader misleads you or engages in an aggressive commercial practice and you make a decision to purchase a holiday that you would not otherwise have done, they may be in breach of the Regulations - for example, any claims about the suitability of accommodation for a certain type of disability must be accurate. If you think you have been misled, complain to the Citizens Advice consumer service so your complaint can be referred to trading standards.
Before you book, you must always inform the travel agent, tour operator, airport or airline about your disability and your requirements to ensure that the prospective holiday is suitable for you and that you are not misled. If you fail to inform the service provider of an essential requirement and make it part of the holiday contract, you may not be entitled to make a claim afterwards in the event of a dispute.
If you enter a contract because a trader misled you or because a trader used an aggressive commercial practice, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 also give you rights of redress: the right to unwind the contract, the right to a discount and the right to damages. The 'Misleading & aggressive practices: rights of redress' guide gives more information. When considering your destination, pay particular attention to:
- the location. What is the terrain like? Are the hotel, beach, shops and places of interest accessible?
- the climate. Note the temperature and likely weather conditions for the time you are considering going on holiday
- transport. Is transport accessible? How easy will it be to get around your potential destination?
- access to medical facilities if required
- whether any equipment you need can be accommodated
- travel insurance
- repatriation arrangements in the event of an emergency
When considering your accommodation, pay particular attention to:
- the provision of assistance on the journey and at the resort
- the location of your room, such as ground floor. Ensure requests of this type are an essential term of the holiday contract
- the dimensions of your wheelchair if you use one. Give the travel agent / tour operator the dimensions and ensure that you can access the accommodation and that you have sufficient space to manoeuvre around the bedroom and bathroom
- the bathroom. Is it accessible and suitable?
- arrangements that are in place to assist you if you have a hidden disability
- whether there are lifts in the accommodation and which areas are accessible only by stairs
- whether any specialist dietary requirements you may have can be met
Some service providers specialise in providing accessible travel holidays and whilst there is still an onus on you to give accurate information on your disability to the provider, there is a greater legal obligation (as specialists) to ensure the holiday is suitable for your disability requirements.
Always make sure that your requests and the arrangements you have made with the tour operator are in writing on the booking form and the confirmation as part of the contract.
See the 'Holidays' guide for more information.
Travelling by air
EU Regulation (EC) No 1107/2006 concerning the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when travelling by air sets out your rights when travelling by air to protect you from discrimination and to ensure you receive assistance. The Regulations define a disabled person and a person with reduced mobility as "any person whose mobility when using air transport is reduced due to any physical disability, intellectual disability or impairment, or an other cause of disability, or age". 'Hidden disabilities', such as dementia, learning disabilities, autism, visual impairments and hearing loss, fall under this definition.
A tour operator, travel agent or airline cannot refuse to accept a reservation for a flight to which the Regulations apply or to deny you embarkation at an airport if you have a valid ticket and reservation, unless it is on safety grounds or if the size of the aircraft doors makes boarding or travel physically impossible. You should be informed of the reasons for refusal in writing.
You should inform the tour operator, travel agent or airline of your request for assistance at the time you book or at least 48 hours before the departure time of your flight. Make sure you are absolutely clear about the type of assistance you require; this will avoid any unnecessary delays. You can expect to find (clearly signed in accessible formats) designated points of arrival and departure within the airport where you can obtain assistance. Airports should provide different types of assistance, depending on the nature of the disability. For example, someone with a hidden disability may wish to have a one-to-one escort through the airport. If you have a hidden disability, you must never be separated from any companion you may be travelling with when you are receiving assistance at the airport. You are also entitled to receive information in all different formats, such as a combination of accessible videos, photos and pictures of airport processes. Your right to assistance comes with obligations on your part to comply with conditions - for example, presenting yourself at check-in within a reasonable time or at the time stipulated in writing to you.
Airports are responsible for providing assistance to you to get on to your flight, including help at car parks and terminal entrances, at check-in and assistance within the airport. Trained staff should be available to help you. There are circumstances when you are required to travel with a companion, such as if you need help with eating, drinking, taking medication or using toilet facilities. The airline should make every effort to ensure you sit next to your companion.
If you use mobility equipment, such as an electric wheelchair, you should give the airline details about its make, model, weight and size so that it can be loaded and stored safely. You have the right to be compensated if your mobility equipment is damaged and there is a complaints procedure that you can follow if the service providers fail to comply with the Regulations. You may be asked to provide a medical certificate if you intend to travel with medical equipment, supplies or medication and if you take more than 100ml of liquid or gel medication through the security process.
If you intend to travel with an assistance dog, you must inform the airline in advance. All assistance dogs must be accepted for air travel without charge. The airline might ask you to confirm that your dog has been trained by a recognised dog training organisation, such as those that are members of Assistance Dogs UK. Make sure you take a safety harness with you for the flight so that the dog can be secured when the plane takes off and lands.
See the Civil Aviation Authority website for more information on your rights when travelling by air.
Travelling by rail
The National Rail Conditions of Travel state that train companies will give assistance to passengers with disabilities on request and at no extra cost. For example, making ramps available to allow wheelchair users to board trains. It is recommended, but not essential, that passengers who require assistance should contact the train company at least 24 hours in advance.
You may wish to check that the station has disabled facilities; the National Rail Enquiries website has information for disabled passengers. Train companies are legally obliged to produce their 'disabled people's protection policy' if you request it. This sets out how the train provider will assist travellers with disabilities to use their trains and stations.
Travelling by bus & coach
The driver is legally obliged to give you reasonable assistance - for example, helping you on and off the bus or coach - but this does not mean they have to physically lift you or your mobility aids. If accessibility is a problem, discuss how best to resolve it directly with the bus or coach provider.
Check with your local council to find out how to obtain a disabled person's bus pass. If you are eligible, the bus pass will enable you to travel for free.
Travelling by taxi
In some areas, including larger cities, taxis must be accessible to wheelchair users. Unless the driver has an exemption certificate they must allow a guide dog, hearing dog or assistance dog to travel in the taxi; the dog should wear its harness and identifying jacket. A driver with an exemption certificate should display a 'notice of exemption' on the taxi windscreen.
Travelling by car
If you have a Blue Badge that allows you to park in restricted areas, you can now use it in the European Union but check the concessionary parking rules in the country you are visiting before you travel. If you are hiring a car, make sure the insurance you are offered is adequate and appropriate to cover your disability.
Travelling by ship
You can obtain help if you are travelling:
- on a local ferry service
- on a cruise ship departing from an EU port
- on a ferry travelling to or from an EU port
You should let the travel company know at the time you book if there are any specific travel arrangements you need to make, such as if you will be travelling with a carer.
If you need help with getting on and off the ship, let the company know at least 48 hours in advance.
See the 'Holidays' guide, which gives general information on your rights under the Package Travel Regulations.
The Package Travel Regulations define what a 'package' and what 'linked travel arrangements' are. Not all combinations of travel services - transport, accommodation, car, motorcycle and other vehicle rental - are covered under these Regulations. However, you are making a contract for the provision of a service (or services) that is also covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015. The service you receive must be carried out with reasonable care and skill, within a reasonable time (if time is not fixed by the contract) and you are only required to pay a reasonable price for the service unless the price (or the way in which the price is worked out) is fixed as part of the contract.
Anything said or written down by a trader (or someone acting on their behalf) about their business or the service forms part of the contract if you take that information into consideration before you agree the contract; it also applies if you make a decision about the service, based on that information, after the contract is made.
The 'Supply of services: your consumer rights' guide gives more information on your rights and which remedy you are entitled to.
Adequate and appropriate travel insurance cover is essential to avoid being out of pocket if you need to cancel your holiday, your baggage is lost or you are faced with an expensive bill for medical treatment. Shop around for the best policy to meet your requirements. As with all insurance policies, you must provide all the information that the insurance provider needs to judge whether to insure you, the level of cover they can provide and the cost of the premium.
Some insurance policies will not insure you for pre-existing medical conditions and the level of cover may be inadequate for any specialist equipment you may use. Ensure you obtain pre-existing medical travel insurance cover, have the right level of cover for your equipment and that emergency treatment / replacement medication cover is in place. You may also want to consider carer cover, in case your carer becomes injured or ill whilst accompanying you on holiday.
If an insurer refuses to meet your claim and you reach deadlock in your dispute, complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service
The majority of disabled travellers should not require medical clearance prior to flying, although it is possible that passengers could be asked to provide proof of medical fitness before the airline will allow them to board the aircraft. If you require medical clearance, you and your doctor will need to complete a Medical Information Form (MEDIF), which is only valid for one trip and for the details shown on the ticket. Disabled travellers with stable medical conditions may be able to obtain a Frequent Travellers' Medical Card (FREMEC), which gives airlines a record of your requirements and will save you making arrangements every time you fly.
As with all travellers you can obtain a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) if you are travelling within the European Economic Area or Switzerland. You can apply for an EHIC online or by telephoning 0300 330 1350.
Be aware that obtaining medical clearance could be a factor in the travel insurance you obtain.
The Directory of the European Dialysis and Transplant Association lists dialysis centres in Europe and the Mediterranean; visitors can receive treatment but this must be arranged in advance through the person's own dialysis centre. Visit the European Renal Association - European Dialysis and Transplant Association website.
- Equality Advisory and Support Service
FREEPOST EASS HELPLINE FPN4431
Tel: 0808 800 0082, textphone: 0808 800 0084
- Tourism for All
- Disability Rights UK
The Foreign travel for disabled people page of the GOV.UK website gives advice for disabled people who intend to travel abroad.
- Key legislation
- EU Regulation (EC) No 1107/2006 concerning the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when travelling by air
- Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008
- Equality Act 2010
- Consumer Rights Act 2015
- Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018
Last reviewed / updated: August 2018
- Please note
This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.
The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.
For further information in England and Wales contact the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 040506. In Scotland contact Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000. Both provide free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues.
©2019 itsa Ltd on behalf of the Trading Standards Institute.