- Passengers with disabilities are particularly affected by the flight chaos this summer.
- In July, the US Department of Transportation released a Bill of Rights for travelers with disabilities.
- Here are the accommodations that airlines are required to provide under the Air Carrier Access Act.
From airlines breaking custom wheelchairs to employees who “abandon” wheelchair users during airport flight delays, this summer’s travel chaos has made flying an even more challenging experience for some passengers with disabilities.
According to the Department of Transportation, a total of 1,110 wheelchairs and scooters — 1.53% of all wheelchairs and scooters on the plane — were abused by US airlines in May. During the same period last year, 601 or 1.18% of all wheelchairs and scooters on the plane were mishandled.
In July, the agency released a “Bill of Rights” for airline passengers with disabilities – here is an abridged list of the 10 basic rights protected by the Air Carrier Access Act as outlined by the DOT:
1. The right to be treated with dignity and respect: An airline may not deny service to a passenger because of his or her disability or subject him or her to restrictions that do not apply to other passengers. Flight personnel must complete disability training at least every three years.
2. The right to receive information about services and aircraft capabilities and limitations: Airlines are required to provide passengers with disabilities with information about the intended aircraft for their flight upon request. This includes any restrictions on the availability of the aircraft’s stowage space for assistive devices and whether or not the aircraft has an accessible lavatory.
3. The right to receive information in an accessible format: Passengers who require visual or hearing aids must be given “instant access” to the same travel information as other passengers at the gate, ticketing area, customer service desk and onboard the aircraft. Airline personnel must be trained to recognize requests for communication facilitation.
4. The right to accessible airport facilities: Airlines must ensure that terminal facilities they own, lease or control are easily accessible and usable for passengers with disabilities at US airports and can be used with ease at international airports. This includes ensuring an accessible path between the gate and the aircraft boarding location, providing ramps or mechanical elevators when ground-level boarding is not possible, and providing assistance areas for service animals at the airport.
5. The right to assistance at airports: Passengers with disabilities must be given “immediate and timely” assistance throughout the airport. This includes assistance with transportation between gates to make connecting flights, assistance with transfer from the arriving or departing flight to the curb for pickup, assistance with access to the ticket counter, baggage claim and lavatory. Airlines may not leave a passenger who is not self-mobile unattended in a wheelchair or other device for more than 30 minutes.
6. The right to assistance on the plane: Airlines must allow a passenger with a disability who self-identifies at the gate that they need extra time or assistance with boarding, stowage of accessibility equipment or seating, to board before all other passengers. Once the passenger has boarded, crew members must assist with going to the toilet or retrieving carry-on baggage upon request.
7. The right to travel with an assistive or service animal: According to safety regulations, airlines must allow assistive devices such as wheelchairs as hand luggage in the cabin free of charge. If an airline loses, damages or destroys the wheelchair or other assistive device, it must provide compensation “up to the original purchase price of the wheelchair or device”.
8. The right to be seated: Airlines are required to provide designated seating (if available in the same “class of service”) for passengers with disabilities who require a movable aisle armrest, bulkhead seat, extra legroom, or an adjacent seat.
9. The right to accessible aircraft functions: New aircraft delivered to US airlines after April 1992 and to foreign airlines after May 2010 must have the following accessibility features: (1) moveable aisle armrests on half of the aisle seats if the aircraft has 30 or more seats, ( 2) preferred stowage space for wheelchairs in the cabin for aircraft with 100 or more seats, (3) at least one accessible lavatory if the aircraft has more than one aisle, and (4) an onboard wheelchair if requested for access to onboard lavatories .
10. The right to have a disability-related issue resolved: Airlines must respond to disability-related complaints in writing within 30 days and deal with them directly. Airlines are not required to process complaints sent more than 45 days after the incident unless the complaint is escalated to the airline by the DOT.