Travel agents and tour operators must be able to demonstrate they have adequate procedures for handling disabled customers if they are to avoid falling foul of the law.

Speaking at the ABTA travel law seminar on Monday, Gates and Partners partner Sue Barham said European legislation requiring non-discrimination of the disabled and the need to offer them adequate assistance at no extra cost was enshrined in UK law last summer.

While it is currently targeted at dealing with airports and aircraft, it will soon encompass maritime law too.

The new laws also take into account aspects like injury to feelings and loss of dignity, she told delegates. This means the trade must introduce correct procedures for collecting and providing information for disabled customers even if they don’t seem immediately necessary.

Barham said: “The new thing with this legislation is it created specific and definite rights and placed specific obligations on the travel industry.

“I think really all the operators and agents need to be able to demonstrate if they’re asked for the information (relevant to a disabled passenger) that they can get it quickly from the carrier.

“If you can demonstrate you have a procedure then you’re halfway towards having a defence.”

She said the new legislation has created some confusion between carriers, airports, operators and agents as to whose responsibility collecting information is.

Barham said: “I think you have to bear in mind how broad this legislation is and the number of passengers who could have rights under this legislation.”

She added when taking the information, the trade should offer either a free phone service or a call-back facility to ensure the disabled are not paying extra to have their needs registered.

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