The U.S. Department of Transportation has taken a formal step to ensure all air travelers are treated fairly and equally.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced last week that the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has — for the first time — published what’s known as the Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights. Essentially, it’s a summary of existing laws, however, they are now compiled in one document and are explained concisely.
“Today’s announcements are the latest steps toward ensuring an air travel system that works for everyone,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said. “Whether you’re a traveler with a disability navigating air travel, a consumer traveling by air for the first time in a while, or a parent expecting to sit together with your young children on a flight, you deserve safe, accessible, affordable, and reliable airline service.”
The timing comes as airlines and airports alike face mounting criticism over everything from canceled and delayed flights to lost or mishandled wheelchairs and scooters.
For instance, according to USDOT’s recently released Air Travel Consumer Report (ATCR) on airline operational data for the month of April 2022, air carriers reported checking 61,475 wheelchairs and scooters but mishandled 896. That means 1.46 percent of the wheelchairs and scooters were mishandled, up from 1.43 percent in March 2022, but also higher than the rate of 1.35 percent mishandled in pre-pandemic April 2019.
What’s more troubling, however, is that according to the report, USDOT received 162 disability-related complaints in April. That’s up from the 119 disability-related complaints received in March 2022 and more than double the 80 complaints received in April 2019.
The 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 travelers with disabilities under the Air Carrier Access Act, which will empower air travelers with disabilities to understand and assert their rights and help ensure that U.S. and foreign air carriers and their contractors uphold those rights,” USDOT explains.
“It was developed using feedback from the Air Carrier Access Act Advisory Committee, which includes representatives of passengers with disabilities, national disability organizations, air carriers, airport operators, contractor service providers, aircraft manufacturers, wheelchair manufacturers, and a national veterans organization representing disabled veterans,” USDOT continues.
The Bill of Rights applies to individuals with a disability, which is defined as “a physical or mental impairment that permanently or temporarily impacts a major life activity such as walking, hearing, or breathing.”
Passengers’ Specific Rights
Let’s get to it. The Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights consists of 10 rights. They are:
The Right To Be Treated With Dignity And Respect
An airline may not discriminate against an individual with a disability due to their disability. For instance, an airline may not refuse transportation or other services because of one’s disability, resulting appearance, or involuntary behavior. Furthermore, an airline cannot require an air traveler with a disability to accept special services or subject them to 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 information about the facilities and services that are available to them. That information includes aircraft-related, service-related, or other limitations on the airline’s ability to accommodate passengers with a disability, such as limitations on boarding.
The Right To Receive Information In An Accessible Format
An airline’s primary website must be accessible if the airline uses an aircraft with more than 60 seats. Passengers who need visual or hearing assistance must receive prompt access to the same trip information as other passengers at the gate, ticket area, customer service desk, and on the aircraft.
The Right To Accessible Airport Facilities
Airlines and U.S. airport operators are both responsible for the accessibility of airport facilities. Airlines must ensure that terminal facilities that they own, lease, or control are readily accessible and usable by passengers with disabilities at U.S. airports, and readily usable at foreign airports as well. For example, airlines must provide an accessible route between the gate and the aircraft boarding location.
The Right To Assistance At Airports
Upon request, passengers with disabilities must be provided prompt and timely enplaning and deplaning assistance from properly trained airline personnel. This must include everything from the use of ground wheelchairs and accessible motorized carts to assistance with moving from the curb to the departing flight — or from the arriving flight to the curb for pick-up.
The Right To Assistance On The Aircraft
Airlines must allow a passenger with a disability — who self-identifies at the gate — to have 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-ons in the cabin, free of charge. The assistive devices must not count against the passenger’s carry-on limit. This includes medical devices.
The Right To Receive Seating Accommodations
Airlines must provide passengers with disabilities specific seats — if requested. These seats include an aisle chair with a moveable armrest, if the passenger cannot transfer over the fixed armrest; a bulkhead seat, when the passenger travels with a service animal that needs room; and an adjoining seat for a passenger’s companion, when the companion assists a passenger who is blind or has low vision, or is deaf or hard of hearing.
The Right To Accessible Aircraft Features
New aircraft delivered to U.S. airlines after April 1992, and to foreign airlines after May 2010, must have several accessible features. They include movable armrests on half of the aisle seats, priority stowage space for wheelchairs in the cabin of aircraft with 100 or more seats, and an accessible lavatory if the aircraft has more than one aisle.
The Right To Resolution Of A Disability-Related Issue
Airlines must have a Complaint Resolution Official (CRO) on duty at all airports they serve whenever the airline is operating. The CRO should be trained in resolving disability-related issues and should be able to resolve them immediately. Passengers with disabilities who have pressing questions about their rights should ask to speak with the airline’s CRO immediately.
You can learn more about the Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights here.
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