ABTA Takes Action On Flight Centre Website Disability Blunder

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The Association of British Travel Agents, ABTA, takes action against "Flight Centre" following a Reduced Mobility Rights report on the travel agents’ websites missing mandatory information for disabled passengers.

Reduced mobility rights logoUnited Kingdom, 6 August 2013. A recently published report on travel agents' websites found that all but two major online travel agents sites fail to provide mandatory information for passengers with disabilities.

Some websites, like FlightCentre.co.uk were found not to contain any disability information at all.

The Civil Aviation Authority, national enforcement body for Regulation 1107/2006 said it is concerned about the findings of the audit of travel agents' websites. “We are concerned about the reports of potential failure to comply with various elements of equality legislation highlighted by Reduced Mobility Rights, and considering the issues raised,” a CAA spokesperson told Reduced Mobility Rights on Tuesday 6 August.

Providing information to passengers with reduced mobility at the time of booking is a mandatory requirement of the law protecting the rights of disabled passengers travelling by air. Article 6.1 of Regulation (EC) No 1107/2006 states that airlines, their agents, and tour operators shall ensure receipt, at all their points of sale, by telephone and via the Internet, of notifications of the need for assistance made by disabled persons or persons with reduced mobility.

ABTA has 1,200 Members who own and manage several thousand websites. We work closely with our Members to make them aware of the Code of Conduct and to empower them with best practice guidelines, and we expect them to comply with the Code,” The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) of which Flight Centre are members told Reduced Mobility Rights on Monday. “As soon as we are made aware of issues we will take immediate action to rectify them with the Member.”

One year ago ABTA published a Pre-Notification Guidance booklet for its members. In the chapter dedicated to the booking process, the association outlines the legal requirement for airlines, tour operators and travel agents to ensure passengers can book assistance on the telephone or online. It also outlines that easily accessible links should be made available on the homepage of websites and any other pages dedicated to disabled or reduced mobility passengers. Websites should clearly indicate to the user how they should record and notify their requests for assistance.  In addition to providing a link to the section containing information for disabled passengers on the homepage, travel agents should also consider providing links during the booking process or on completion of the booking.

ABTA’s Code of Conduct requires that Members’ websites contain clear, legible, comprehensive and accurate information to enable consumers to exercise informed judgements in making their choice of travel arrangements.

The UK facing website of Flight Centre does not meet any of the above requirements.  “ABTA actively monitors compliance with all laws and regulations in accordance with the Code of Conduct and provides advice to Members on how to comply and this leads to improvements in standards. Regulation 1107 and the Equalities Act are just two of these,” a spokesperson for the association explained. “If we are aware of any instance of non-compliance we will liaise with the Members to point them in the right direction. If they don’t comply, the rules are there under the Code to deal with them.”

Australia's largest travel company, Flight Centre operates websites and 2,500 stores in ten countries across the world, employing over 13.500 people. Publicly traded in the Australian Stock Exchange, Flight Centre posted an annual total turnover of 13.2 billion US Dollars sales as at June 2012. Flight Centre operates a website and 226 stores in the United Kingdom. The UK branch of the travel giant generated 1.07 billion US Dollars in sales in 2012, posting 15.8 million US Dollars in pre-tax profits.

“Flight Centre has told us that it welcomes any feedback and comments and will always investigate any points raised to ensure that it can provide the best service to cater for any individual inquiry,” the ABTA spokesperson added. “ABTA will work with Flight Centre to ensure the appropriate amendments are made.“

ABTA members’ website monitoring is conducted by the association’s Business Support Team. Our report highlighted the need for ABTA’s website monitoring team to fine tune its action in the area of compliance to the laws protecting the rights of passengers with disabilities.

While welcoming ABTA’s prompt reaction to our findings Reduced Mobility Rights will continue to independently monitor the Flight Centre website and other websites found not in compliance with Regulation 1107/2006. Where and when needed, we will entertain all necessary actions to ensure mandatory information is made available to the public.

Update 9 August 2013

Flight Centre has issued an apology to its customers and other visitors who use its websites, as reported by Reduced Mobility Rights


Roberto Castiglioni