Input Opportunity: Ensuring Wheelchair Users Can Fly With Dignity

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is seeking public comments on a new proposed rule designed to ensure airline passengers who use wheelchairs can travel safely and with dignity. 

An estimated 5.5 million Americans use a wheelchair, and many encounter barriers when it comes to air travel. In 2023, 11,527 wheelchairs and scooters were mishandled by carriers required to report data to DOT. 

The proposed rule would set new standards for prompt, safe, and dignified assistance; require enhanced training for airline employees and contractors who physically assist passengers with disabilities and handle passengers’ wheelchairs; and specify actions that airlines must take to protect passengers when a wheelchair is damaged during transport.

Notably, the proposed rule would require airlines to provide passengers with two options to repair or replace their wheelchairs if mishandled by the airline. The two options are:

  • The carrier handles the repair or replacement of the wheelchair with one that has equivalent or greater function and safety within a reasonable timeframe and pays the associated cost.
  • The passenger arranges the repair or replacement of the wheelchair with one that has equivalent or greater function and safety through their preferred vendor and the airline pays the associated costs. 

In addition, the proposed rule would make it easier for DOT to hold airlines accountable when they damage or delay the return of a wheelchair to its owner by making it an automatic violation of the Air Carrier Access Act to mishandle wheelchairs. 

As part of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, DOT is also requesting input on two topics not currently included in the proposal: lavatory size on twin-aisle aircrafts and reimbursement of the fare difference between a flight someone could've taken if their wheelchair fit in the aircraft and the more expensive flight they had to take instead.

Comments can be submitted online, by mail or fax, or hand-delivered through Monday, May 13, 2024.

The proposed rule was announced at a White House convening on protecting the safety, rights, and dignity of air travelers with disabilities.

Read DOT’s press release for a summary of key provisions

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