New Rules May Bring Updated Rights to Flyers with Disabilities

New Rules May Bring Updated Rights to Flyers with Disabilities

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Flying isn’t what it used to be, as everyone who’s taken a flight in the past 15 years or so knows. Flyers with disabilities can have a particularly challenging time dealing with airports, airlines, and aircraft. Airports are crowded and stretch forever. Airplanes are crowded, their seats are small, and bulkhead seats are hard to nab. If you’re traveling with a scooter or a wheelchair, you look out the window, watch it being loaded into the cargo bay, and wonder, “When will I see my wheels again and in what kind of shape?”

On one flight from Washington, D.C., to Venice, with a change of planes in Frankfurt, my scooter went to Copenhagen. Fortunately, the scooter and I were reunited the next day, before my two-week cruise departed. On a flight from Baltimore to St. Kitts, the scooter was returned right to the cabin door, but its seat back had been broken off, somehow, during the nonstop flight.

HR 302 to the rescue

The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, HR 302, funds the Federal Aviation Administration for the next five years. It was signed into law in mid-October, and several of its provisions could make air travel a little easier for people with any kind of disability.

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Foremost among these provisions is one that requires the U.S. Department of Transportation to create an Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights that includes, at a minimum:

(1) The right of passengers with disabilities to be treated with dignity and respect.

(2) The right of passengers with disabilities to receive timely assistance, if requested, from properly trained covered air carrier and contractor personnel.

(3) The right of passengers with disabilities to travel with wheelchairs, mobility aids, and other assistive devices, including necessary medications and medical supplies, including stowage of such wheelchairs, aids, and devices.

(4) The right of passengers with disabilities to receive seating accommodations, if requested, to accommodate a disability.

(5) The right of passengers with disabilities to receive announcements in an accessible format.

(6) The right of passengers with disabilities to speak with a complaint resolution officer or to file a complaint with a covered air carrier or the Department of Transportation.

Item 4 could be particularly useful to those with MS if that means we could demand a bulkhead seat or one with extra room as a “right.”

An advisory committee

Seating is one of the subjects that HR 302 says must be looked into by an “advisory committee on the air travel needs of passengers with disabilities.” One of that committee’s charges is to determine whether current regulations should be modified to:

(A) provide accommodations for passengers with disabilities, if requested, in ticketing and pre-flight assignments;

(B) require covered air carriers to provide priority access to bulkhead seating to passengers with disabilities who need access to features of those seats due to disabilities regardless of class of service of ticket purchased; and

(C) ensure passengers with disabilities can stow assistive devices without cost.

I love item (B).

HR 302 contains other provisions. They’re outlined on the National MS Society’s website and include:

  • A study on in-cabin wheelchair restraint systems
  • Increased civil penalties for harm to a passenger with a disability or damage to his/her mobility aid
  • A requirement for large domestic airlines to report on the number of wheelchairs and scooters enplaned and subsequently damaged
  • A revision of training for Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers, which will be done in consultation with disability and veterans’ organizations for standard screening and precheck
  • TSA reporting requirements about passengers with disabilities, most notably in reporting mechanical chairs that are damaged when placed below in storage

Changes will take time

None of this is going to happen at jet speed. There are a lot of “within 90 days” and “no later than 1 year after” deadlines. But slow is better than never. Section 435 of this legislation says this:

It is the sense of Congress that—

(1) the aviation industry and every relevant stakeholder must work to ensure that every individual who experiences a disability has equal access to air travel;

(2) as technology and ease of travel continue to advance, accessibility must be a priority; and

(3) accommodations must—

(A) extend to every airport and service or facility of an air carrier; and

(B) be inclusive of every disability.

Take a look at item (2) again. “Accessibility must be a priority.” Five words that we can only hope will be taken to heart by the air travel industry.

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18 comments

  1. Cyndi says:

    Definitely a positive development. That said, how about requiring a carrier to provide a replacement mobility device (even temporarily) if the passenger’s has been damaged in transit. Worst nightmare of arriving at a destination only to learn your sole source/ability to get from point A to point B is lost, delayed or damaged beyond immediate use. Hasn’t yet happened to me personally but it is on my mind every time I board a plane.

  2. GJP says:

    I would like a provision pertaining to accessible bathrooms on airplanes taking into account size and location. It is really annoying when you are in the front of economy class but aren’t able to use the first class bathroom which is just a few feet in front of you. You are forced to somehow maneuver to the rear and then often forced to hold on to a wall or seat back until your turn to use the bathroom.

    • Ed Tobias says:

      An excellent idea. I’ve found that it helps if, when I first board, I tell the flight attendants that I have trouble walking (which they can see) and I’d appreciate it if they would accommodate me and allow me to use the closest restroom, even though it’s in First Class or Business. I’ve never been denied. I think asking for this as an accommodation may help.

      Ed

      • GJP says:

        I never asked before trying to use the first class bathroom. When the flight attendant told other passengers that they had to use the bathroom in the rear of economy, I followed to the economy bathroom. Next time I’ll definitely ask when I board the plane since I’m now in a wheelchair full time. Thanks for the advice.

  3. Ed Edbrooke says:

    Have had that happen to my wife last year, wasn’t there when we tries to meet our connecting flight, the airline gave us a chair to take with us and were very helpful and promised to have her scooter the next day in the country we were going to. It was there the next day and they picked up loaner no problem, made our holiday as it is always our worst fear that it won’t be there when we get off plane and that will mean wife is not able to do anything.

    • Ed Tobias says:

      G’day Ed –

      Thanks for sharing a good travel experience. When my scooter disappeared it was also during a connection. The airline was very good about getting me between gates in a wheelchair but they didn’t offer a loaner to help us at the final destination. Since this was a positive experience, would you tell us which airline you were flying?

      Ed

    • Cyndi says:

      So good to hear this. I’ve always been hopeful that would be an airline’s response, but certainly had doubts. I will use your story as to what is a reasonable solution should the need arise. Thanks!

    • Ed Tobias says:

      I’ve been there. Unfortunately, that’s something that may be beyond the control of the airline. The runway delay is usually due to an air traffic control delay and once the aircraft leaves the gate its a/c may not be able to be operated until the plane is airborne. It’s hard to solve that problem with regulations.

      Ed

  4. Cynthia says:

    I hang my disabled parking sticker on my carry on luggage when travelling for many reasons to include giving TSA and other travellers a heads up, in hope of not heing runover ir left standing endlessly

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