The Air Carrier Access Act: Protecting Passengers With Disabilities

The Air Carrier Access Act: Protecting Passengers With DisabilitiesTraveling these days can feel like a challenge.

Huge airport terminals. Long delays. Extensive security protocol.

And all of these issues (and then some) become even more challenging if you have a disability of any type. 

Fortunately in this country, the Air Carrier Access Act makes it a little easier for passengers with disabilities to travel with the same respect and dignity as everyone else.

The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in air travel and requires air carriers to accommodate the needs of passengers with disabilities. In 1990, the Department of Transportation issued a rule defining the rights of passengers and the obligations of air carriers under this law.

Today, we explain how the Air Carrier Access Act protects passengers with disabilities from origin to destination during air travel.

Introduction of The Air Carrier Access Act

For years, both passengers and the airline industry were dissatisfied with the country’s air travel system for persons with disabilities.

They recognized the need for major improvement and so in 1986 Congress passed the Air Carrier Access Act. This act required the Department of Transportation to develop new regulations which ensure persons with disabilities are treated without discrimination in a way consistent with the safe transportation of all passengers. These regulations were published in March 1990.

The Department of Transportation regulations, also referred to as the Air Carrier Access Act rules, represented a major step forward in improving air travel for passengers with disabilities.

The rules clearly explain the responsibilities of the:

  • Traveler
  • Airport operators
  • Contractors, who collectively make up the system which moves over one million passengers per day.

However, these rules do not apply to foreign airlines.

ACAA Rules Minimize Air Travel Problems Faced By Passengers With Disabilities

The Air Carrier Access rules are designed to minimize the special problems that passengers with disabilities face as they navigate their way through the country’s complex air travel system from origin to destination.

The rules achieve this by:

  • Recognizing that the physical barriers encountered by passengers with disabilities can frequently be overcome by implementing simple changes in layout and technology.
  • Adopting the principle that many difficulties confronting passengers with hearing or vision impairments will be alleviated if they are provided access to the same information available to all other passengers.
  • Through training of all air travel personnel who come in day-to-day contact with passengers with disabilities, to understand their needs and to understand how they can be accommodated quickly, safely, and respectfully.

Traveling Environment for Passengers With Disabilities Under the Air Carrier Access Act

As a result of the Air Carrier Access Act many restrictions that discriminated against passengers with disabilities were lifted.

These include:

  • A carrier must not refuse transportation to a passenger solely on the basis of a disability.
  • Air carriers must not limit the number of individuals with disabilities on a particular flight.
  • All trip information made available to other passengers must also be made available to passengers with disabilities.
  • Carriers must provide passage to an individual who has a disability that might affect his or her appearance or involuntary behavior—even if this disability may offend, annoy, or be an inconvenience to the flight crew or other passengers.

Exceptions to The Air Carrier Access Act Rules

However, there are some exceptions to the Air Carrier Access act rules such as:

The carrier may refuse transportation if the individual with a disability would endanger the health or safety of other passengers, or transporting the person would be a violation of FAA safety rules.

If the plane has fewer than 30 seats, the carrier may refuse transportation if there are no lifts, boarding chairs, or other devices available which can be adapted to the limitations of the small size of the aircraft. Airline personnel are not required to carry a mobility-impaired person onto the aircraft by hand.

There are special rules about persons with certain disabilities or communicable diseases.

The carrier may refuse transportation if it is unable to seat the passenger without violating the FAA Exit Row Seating rules. These rules states that a passenger must be physically capable and willing to perform emergency actions when seated in emergency or exit rows. If a passenger is not capable of performing the emergency actions he or she should request another seat.

Accessibility Issues for Passengers With Disabilities Still Remain Unresolved

Although the rules have made important strides forward for travelers with disabilities, there is much work yet to be done.

A number of accessibility issues remain unresolved such as:

  • Accessible terminal transportation systems
  • Boarding chair standards
  • Substitute transportation for passengers unable to board a small aircraft
  • Accessible lavatories on narrow body aircraft
  • Open captioning for in-flight movies and videos

The Federal Aviation Administration, along with groups representing people with disabilities, and the airline industry, are committed to resolving the above mentioned accessibility issues.

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