Updated 3.50pm

KM Malta Airline’s requirement for wheelchair users to fill in and submit a €15 medical form when booking a flight has been labelled “discriminatory” by CRPD Commissioner Rhoda Garland.

Wheelchair users, passengers with reduced mobility and those with medical requirements need to fill in a Medical Information Form (MEDIF) and submit it in advance of their flight to be reviewed and approved by KM Malta Airlines.

The policy has sparked a backlash from wheelchair users and their families.

The same form must be filled in for passengers who require oxygen supply on board, mothers who are over 36 weeks pregnant, and passengers who have severe medical conditions.

The policy also points out that while crew are ready to assist passengers with reduced mobility, they must travel with another passenger if they are not “self-reliant”.

In the past few weeks, the Commissioner for the Rights of Persons with Disability has received several complaints from people with disability.

“This is appalling, and needs to stop as these requirements are discriminatory,” CRPD Commissioner Rhoda Garland told Times of Malta.

“I’ve received numerous complaints about these policies, including from my employees who have flown with different airlines for years, and were never asked to fill in a medical form. We are investigating all these complaints.”

Last week Garland attended a meeting with representatives of the airline who informed her that the policies were always in place with Air Malta, which she said was not the case.

Screenshot of KM Malta Airlines policies for passengers with reduced mobility.Screenshot of KM Malta Airlines policies for passengers with reduced mobility.

She said she began to receive complaints a few weeks ago before Air Malta was replaced by KM Malta Airlines and said she was unaware of when or why Air Malta changed its policy.

One 33-year-old who is a frequent flyer and a wheelchair user said that in all her years of travelling, she never had to fill in a medical form before flying.

“I travel quite often, at least once a year, and this was the first time,” she told Times of Malta.

A few weeks before her March 16 flight with Air Malta, she called the airline to inform them that she would be travelling with a wheelchair, a usual procedure she follows with any airline.

“That is when I was informed about the form and the fee. I felt very frustrated and meant having to take time off work to visit my doctor to fill in the form.”

She said she felt discriminated against when the airline mentioned the €15 fee and said she never heard of such a procedure.

According to EU policies, persons with disabilities or reduced mobility are entitled to receive free-of-charge assistance in airports and on aeroplanes.

Screenshot of the national airlines’ policies for passengers with medical needs.Screenshot of the national airlines’ policies for passengers with medical needs.

Nicolette Mifsud, whose 16-year-old son is a wheelchair user, is among the number of people who filed a report with CRPD about the airlines’ “illegal and discriminatory policies”.

“The blanket requirement for an accompanying passenger is not just discriminatory, it’s illegal,” she said. “My son travels very regularly and holds a part-time job in addition to continuing his studies. He also works in tourism. So, he is old enough to be a mayor, but the airline prevents him from flying alone.”

She said she plans to boycott KM Malta Airlines until the policies are changed.

“I shall also be encouraging everyone else to follow suit,” she said. “The issue is more than just about paying a fee, it is about attempting to implement blanket policies and treating people with different abilities as social pariahs that need to be managed instead of respecting their humanity and understanding that they have rights just like anybody else.”

KM Malta Airline reacts

Questions were sent to KM Malta Airlines on Monday, but by Wednesday, the airline had not yet replied.

Instead, KM Malta Airlines sent a statement on Wednesday afternoon referring to "reports in sections of the media", saying it complied “strictly and rigorously” with international aviation safety standards. The airline said it provided people with reduced mobility assistance at airports at no additional charge.

According to its policy available online, people who are not self-reliant will have to be accompanied by a paying passenger. 

However, in the statement that KM Malta Airlines sent on Wednesday, it said in situations when there was “reasonable doubt” that the passenger could complete the flight safely without assistance, it could decide to assess whether the passenger was “fit to fly”.

“It is only in these special cases that KM Malta Airlines, and other airlines, may require passengers to procure a certification from the airline’s medical advisers that the passenger is fit to fly,” the statement read.

“The charge €15 is made by the medical doctor carrying out such assessment and not by the airline. This is also required by the IATA safety standards for bookings and registering of passengers with wheelchairs (WCHC).”

A reader with mobility issues however told Time of Malta they had been asked to pay €15 and submit a fit-to-fly application despite being accompanied by a paying passenger.

In its statement, KM Malta Airlines added it had not introduced new charges or changed practices: “The airline does not charge passengers requiring wheelchair assistance before departing and after arrival or passengers requiring help to embark or disembark the aircraft.”

PN reacts

The PN meanwhile called on the government to remove the "discriminatory" policy for wheelchair users.

“What the national airline is doing is a discriminatory act that also violates the regulations of passengers' rights,” a statement signed by inclusion shadow minister Graziella Galea and tourism shadow minister Mario De Marco said.

The two called for the airline to withdraw the procedures and costs and urged the government to ensure they were removed.

Parents' society reacts

The National Parents’ Society for Persons with Disability meanwhile also expressed its dismay over news that wheelchair-bound people are being "subjected to discriminatory procedures" by the airline.

"We question the decision to subject people to medical certificates, a fee and the blanket requirement for having an accompanying passenger, despite age.

"The imposition of levies and red tape at the click of a button worries the NPSPD as it shows how far our institutions are from embracing disability and diversity," the NPSPD said, calling for discussions to clarify the matter.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us