President Donald Trump signed legislation late last week to reauthorize funding for the Federal Aviation Administration for five years. Contained within that package are an increase in civil penalties for bodily harm to passengers with disabilities or damage to wheelchairs and mobility aids, creation of an advisory committee to recommend consumer protection improvements and the development of an “Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights.”
Air travel is already unpleasant enough, but can be especially so for people with disabilities, whether it’s the lack of a wheelchair accessible restroom on board or the sensory overload of going through a crowded security line.
While airports are subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act, air travel is governed by the Air Carrier Access Act. The bill of rights is required to use plain language to list the rights of passengers with disabilities, including receiving timely assistance and seating accommodations if requested. The law requires airline employees and contractors toundergo training on the bill of rights.
The new law requires the TSA to revise its training within six months for screening passengers with disabilities. The agency must address proper screening and any particular sensitivities a traveler with a disability might have, including to touch, pressure and sound. Signs must be posted at security checkpoints advising on how to complain of screening mistreatment based on disability.
The Department of Transportation must promulgate final rules within 18 months for service animals on planes, including a service animal definition.
Finally, the law requires studies of airport accessibility best practices and the feasibility of someday allowing in-cabin wheelchair restraint systems so that people could remain in their wheelchairs in flight rather than having to transfer to an airplane seat.