Proposed Rule Would Expand Rights Of Airline Passengers With Disabilities

A new proposal from the US Department of Transportation calls for airlines to do more to accommodate people with disabilities. (think stock)

Airlines could soon be required to meet a new standard in assisting travelers with disabilities.

A rule proposed This week, the U.S. Department of Transportation would require better training for airline staff and contractors who assist people with disabilities and those who use wheelchairs. Additionally, it paves the way for increased penalties for airlines and details the steps they must take if a wheelchair or other assistive device is mishandled.

“There are millions of Americans with disabilities who don’t travel by air due to poor airline practices and inadequate government regulations, but now we aim to change that,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “This new rule would change the way airlines operate to ensure travelers who use wheelchairs can travel safely and with dignity.”

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The proposal would make it an automatic violation of the Air Transportation Access Act if airlines damage or delay the return of a wheelchair or other assistive device, allowing the Department of Transportation to more easily impose penalties.

In 2023 alone, Department of Transportation data shows that airlines mishandled 11,527 wheelchairs and scooters. Under the proposal, in these circumstances, airlines would be required to immediately notify passengers of their right to file a complaint with the airline, receive a lone wheelchair, and choose who they want to repair or replace their device.

When mobility devices are damaged, the Department of Transportation’s plan would give passengers the right to choose whether they want the airline to handle repairs or replacements or make the arrangements themselves at the airline’s expense. If a wheelchair is delayed, the proposal would require it to arrive within 24 hours of the passenger.

Additionally, airlines would be required to assist passengers with disabilities in a “safe and dignified” manner. The plan stipulates that staff will be available to help those who need a boarding chair off the plane when the last passengers disembark and indicates that the passenger’s personal wheelchair should be placed as close to the plane door as possible.

The rule includes new standards for wheelchairs on board and a requirement that passengers be notified when their personal wheelchair is loaded or unloaded from an aircraft’s cargo compartment. If a person’s wheelchair does not fit on the plane, immediate notification will be required.

“When someone can’t travel because someone has decided it is too difficult to accommodate them, the world shrinks. And more importantly, it’s reduced for that potential traveler and it’s reduced for everyone else, everyone who would benefit from having that traveler with them, whether it’s for a family reunion or a board meeting,” Buttigieg said at a white news conference. Meeting at the house promoting the proposal. “We know we can do better.”

The proposed rule will be in effect for public comment for 60 days.

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