Department of Transportation details passenger bill of rights for travelers with disabilities

The US Department of Transportation has taken formal action to ensure that all air travelers are treated fairly and equitably.

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced last week that the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) had – for the first time – released what is known as the Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights. It is essentially a summary of the existing laws, however, they are now compiled into a single document and are explained concisely.

“Today’s announcements are the final steps to ensuring an air travel system that works for everyone,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “Whether you’re a disabled traveler traveling by air, a consumer traveling by air for the first time in a long time, or a parent who expects to sit with their young children on a flight, you deserve a safe, accessible, affordable flight. , and reliable air service.

The moment comes as airlines and airports face mounting criticism over everything from canceled and delayed flights to lost or mishandled wheelchairs and scooters.

For example, according to the USDOT’s recently released Air Travel Consumer Report (ATCR) Airline Operational Data for April 2022, airlines reported checking 61,475 wheelchairs and scooters, but in mishandled 896. This means that 1.46% of wheelchairs and scooters were mishandled, up from 1.43% in March 2022, but also higher than the rate of 1.35% mishandled in April 2019 before the pandemic.

What’s more troubling, however, is that according to the report, the USDOT received 162 disability-related complaints in April. This represents an increase from the 119 disability-related complaints received in March 2022 and more than double the 80 complaints received in April 2019.

Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights

The Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights is “an easy-to-use summary of the fundamental rights of air passengers with disabilities under the Air Carriers Access Act, which will enable air passengers with disabilities to understand and affirm their rights and to ensure that U.S. and foreign air carriers and their contractors respect those rights,” explains the USDOT.

“It was developed with input from the Air Carrier Access Act Advisory Committee, which includes representatives of passengers with disabilities, national disabled people’s organizations, air carriers, airport operators, suppliers service contractors, aircraft manufacturers, wheelchair manufacturers and a national organization of veterans representing the disabled. veterans,” the USDOT continues.

The Bill of Rights applies to people with disabilities, which are defined as “a physical or mental impairment that has a permanent or temporary impact on a major life activity, such as walking, hearing or breathing”.

Specific passenger rights

Let’s go. The Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights includes 10 rights. They are:

The right to be treated with dignity and respect

An airline cannot discriminate against a disabled person because of their disability. For example, an airline cannot deny transportation or other services because of their disability, appearance, or involuntary behavior. In addition, an airline cannot require an air traveler with a disability to accept special services or impose restrictions that do not apply to other passengers.

The right to receive information about services and aircraft capabilities and limitations

Upon request, airlines must provide air travelers with disabilities with information about the facilities and services available to them. This information includes aircraft, service or other limitations on the airline’s ability to accommodate passengers with disabilities, such as boarding limitations.

The right to receive information in an accessible format

An airline’s main website must be accessible if the airline operates an aircraft with more than 60 seats. Passengers who require visual or auditory assistance should be given prompt access to the same travel information as other passengers at the gate, ticket area, customer service desk and on the aircraft.

The right to accessible airport facilities

Both airlines and US airport operators are responsible for the accessibility of airport facilities. Airlines must ensure that terminals they own, lease or control are easily accessible and usable by passengers with disabilities at US airports, and easily usable at foreign airports as well. For example, airlines must provide an accessible route from the gate to the aircraft boarding location.

The right to assistance at airports

Upon request, passengers with disabilities should receive prompt and timely boarding and disembarking assistance from trained airline personnel. This must include everything from the use of floor-mounted wheelchairs and motorized carts accessible for assistance to move from the curb to the departing flight – or from the arriving flight to the curb for pickup.

The right to assistance on board the aircraft

Airlines must allow a passenger with a disability – who identifies himself at the gate – additional time or assistance to board, stow accessibility equipment, or be seated before all other passengers.

The right to travel with an assistive device or service animal

Airlines must allow passengers with disabilities to count assistive devices as carry-on baggage in the cabin free of charge. Assistive devices should not count towards the passenger’s carry-on baggage limit. This includes medical devices.

The right to receive seats

Airlines must provide passengers with disabilities with specific seats, upon request. These seats include an aisle chair with a movable armrest, if the passenger cannot transfer to the fixed armrest; a bulkhead seat, when the passenger is traveling with a service animal that requires space; and an adjoining seat for the attendant of a passenger, when the attendant assists a blind or visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing passenger.

The right to accessible aircraft features

New aircraft delivered to US airlines after April 1992, and to foreign airlines after May 2010, must have several accessible features. They include moveable armrests on half of the aisle seats, priority wheelchair storage in the cabin on aircraft with 100 or more seats, and accessible lavatories if the aircraft has more than one aisle.

Airlines must have a Complaints Resolution Officer (CRO) on duty at all airports they serve whenever the airline operates. The CRO must be trained to address disability-related issues and must be able to resolve them immediately. Passengers with disabilities who have urgent questions about their rights should request to speak to the airline’s CRO immediately.

You can read more about the Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights here.

For more information on travel with reduced mobility or other issues, here are some selections from our Travel Tips category:

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