Summer travel chaos can make things even more difficult for passengers with disabilities: These are the 10 accommodations airlines are required to provide

·4 min read
An empty wheelchair in an airport.
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  • Airline passengers with disabilities have been especially impacted by this summer's flight chaos.

  • In July, the US Dept. of Transportation published a "bill of rights" for travelers with disabilities.

  • Here are the accommodations airlines are required to provide, as stipulated in the Air Carrier Access Act.

From airlines breaking custom-fitted wheelchairs to staff members "abandoning" wheelchair users in the airport amid flight delays, this summer's travel chaos has made flying an even more challenging experience for some passengers with disabilities.

A total of 1,110 wheelchairs and scooters — 1.53% of all wheelchairs and scooters enplaned — were mishandled by US airlines this May, according to the Department of Transportation. During the same time period last year, 601 or 1.18% of all wheelchairs and scooters enplaned were mishandled.

In July, the agency released a "bill of rights" for airline passengers with disabilities — here is an abbreviated list of the 10 fundamental rights protected under the Air Carrier Access Act, as described by the DOT:

1. The Right to Be Treated with Dignity and Respect: An airline may not refuse a passenger services because of their disability or subject them to restrictions that do not apply to other passengers. Airline staff must receive disability training at least once every three years.

2. The Right to Receive Information About Services and Aircraft Capabilities and Limitations: Airlines must provide passengers with disabilities information upon request about the specific aircraft scheduled for their flight. This includes any limitations on the availability of the plane's storage for assistive devices and whether or not the plane has an accessible restroom.

3. The Right to Receive Information in an Accessible Format: 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 onboard the aircraft. Airline staff must be trained to recognize requests for communication accommodations.

4. The Right to Accessible Airport Facilities: Airlines must ensure that terminal facilities that they own, lease, or control are readily accessible and usable by passengers with disabilities at US airports, and readily usable at international airports. This includes ensuring an accessible route between the gate and the aircraft boarding location, providing ramps or mechanical lifts when level-entry boarding is not possible, and providing service animal relief areas at the airport.

5. The Right to Assistance at Airports: Passengers with disabilities must be provided "prompt and timely" assistance throughout the airport. This includes assistance with transportation between gates to make connections, assistance with moving from the arriving or departing flight to the curb for pick-up, assistance with accessing the ticket counter, baggage claim, and restroom. Airlines cannot leave a passenger who is not independently mobile unattended for more than 30 minutes in a wheelchair or other device. 

6. The Right to Assistance on the Aircraft: Airlines must allow a passenger with a disability who self-identifies at the gate as needing additional time or assistance to board, stow accessibility equipment, or be seated, the opportunity to board before all other passengers. Once the passenger has boarded, crew members must provide assistance with moving to the lavatory or retrieving carry-on items upon request.

7. The Right to Travel with an Assistive Device or Service Animal: Airlines must allow assistive devices, such as wheelchairs, as carry-ons in the cabin free of charge consistent with safety rules. 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 Receive Seating Accommodations: Airlines must provide specific seats (when available on the same "class of service") to passengers with disabilities who request needing a movable aisle armrest, a bulkhead seat, greater leg room, or an adjoining seat. 

9. The Right to Accessible Aircraft Features: New aircraft delivered to US airlines after April 1992 and to foreign airlines after May 2010 must have the following accessible features: (1) movable aisle armrests on half of the aisle seats, if the aircraft has 30 or more seats, (2) priority 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 on-board wheelchair when requested for on-board lavatory access. 

10. The Right to Resolution of a Disability-Related Issue: Airlines must respond and directly address disability-related complaints submitted by passengers in writing within 30 days. Airlines are not required to address complaints sent more than 45 days after the incident unless the complaint is referred to the airline by the DOT.

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