This will be the last time I begin an episode with information about me. I’m sharing this information at the beginning of the first three episodes so you can learn a little about me and my qualifications to present on matters of disability law.
- I was born blind.
- I am a member of the American Council of the Blind.
- I live in Portland, Oregon.
- Oregon is the fifth state I have called home.
- My interests include:
- I love animals.
- I’m a huge sports fan.
- I’m an avid reader and writer.
- I have a law license from Massachusetts.
- I’m a certified ADA coordinator.
- I’m a certified professional in accessibility.
- I’m the disability analyst for Portland Parks & Recreation.
- Previously, I was the ADA Title II analyst for the city of Portland.
- Several years ago, I was a contract attorney for Disability Rights Advocates in Berkeley, California.
- Prior to that I was a staff attorney for what was then called the American Bar Association’s Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law in Washington, DC.
The information presented in any of the Demand Our Access podcast episodes, on the Demand Our Access website, or otherwise shared in conjunction with or through association with the Demand Our Access project is expressly not individual legal advice. Applying the law depends on the circumstances and events that comprise every situation. Since legal advice is fact-specific, nothing about the Demand Our Access project can provide an individual, a group of individuals, or any organization legal advice.
In this episode we will be focusing on the following:
- Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights
- Selected provisions of the Air Carrier Access Act
This episode is designed to provide a good amount of knowledge of our rights as airline passengers with disabilities. It is not intended to address every requirement the airlines have to provide us, nor is it going to address every aspect of discrimination we may face as people with disabilities when we travel by air. My hope is that by providing this information I can help others in our community understand the rights we have, how to make those rights work for us when we can, and what changes to the law we should be demanding.
If you want more information about the topics presented here, or you think you may need information not presented here, the show notes accompanying this episode and posted to the website has links to all of the resources covered here. So, I wouldn’t listen to this podcast expecting to take notes; rather, I would listen to gain an understanding of what is generally required. When you are planning a trip, or you are thinking about filing a complaint, use the website to access information applying to your specific situation.
Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights
The Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights (Bill of Rights) was developed by the Department of Transportation (DOT) as a cleaner way of explaining the rights promised people with disabilities in the Air Carrier Access Act (ACA). The Bill of rights makes the following 10 promises:
- The right to be treated with dignity and respect
- The right to receive information about airline services, and aircraft services, capabilities, and limitations
- The right to receive information in an accessible format
- The right to accessible airport facilities
- The right to assistance at airports
- The right to assistance on the aircraft
- The right to travel with an assistive device or service animal
- The right to seating accommodations
- The right to accessible aircraft features
- The right to resolution of a disability related issue
While the rest of this episode will cover provisions of the ACA, the Bill of Rights is a great place for you to begin learning about your rights under the ACA.
Selected Provisions of the ACA
The accessibility of airline websites is discussed in 14 C.F.R. § 382.43. Some of its key provisions are as follows:
- If an airline flies at least one plane with 60 or more seats, that airline’s primary website had to be accessible by December 12, 2016.
- If an airline’s primary website is covered, it must comply with level AA of version 2.0 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
- The pages on the primary websites were to be tested by people with disabilities and/or disability organizations for compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and for the usability of the pages.
- Consulting by the disability community was to be done prior to the scheduled dates for compliance.
- There is no requirement for ongoing, organized testing of web pages.
- If someone acknowledging their disability says they cannot access something on an airline’s website, the airline needs to accommodate them in another way.
- Airline websites must allow people with disabilities to request accommodations for future flights.
Information for Blind, Deaf or Hard of Hearing at Airports
The regulations related to people who are blind, deaf, or hard of hearing having access to information are addressed in 14 C.F.R. § 382.53.
- US carriers must ensure People with disabilities have “prompt” access to the same information provided to other passengers at each gate, ticketing area, and customer service desk that an airline owns, leases, or controls at any US or foreign airport, to the extent that this does not interfere with employees’ safety and security duties.
- foreign carriers must make this information available at each gate, ticketing area, and customer service desk that they own, lease, or control at any US. airport.
- At foreign airports, foreign carriers must make this information available only at gates, ticketing areas, or customer service desks they own, lease, or control and only for flights that begin or end in the US.
- The information covered by this section includes, but is not limited to, the following:
- flight safety information
- flight check-in
- schedule changes
- boarding information
- gate assignments
- checked bags
- volunteer solicitation when flights are oversold
- individuals being paged by airlines
- aircraft changes affecting the travel of people with disabilities
- Regarding checked bags, the information must be provided to people who are blind, deaf, or hard of hearing no later than it is provided to other passengers.
Information related to accessible automated kiosks at airports is covered in 14 C.F.R. § 382.57. Things to know about kiosk accessibility are as follows:
- At least 25 percent of automated kiosks at every airport location were to be accessible by December 12, 2022.
- The accessible kiosks must provide the same services as the inaccessible kiosks in their location.
- A passenger with a disability wishing to use an accessible kiosk must be given priority access to an accessible kiosk.
Accessible Information on Aircrafts
The requirements for what information must be accessible to people who are blind, deaf, or hard of hearing on aircrafts is covered in 14 C.F.R. § 382.119. Some of the requirements are as follows:
- Passengers with hearing or visual disabilities have “prompt” access to the same information provided to other passengers on the aircraft to the extent that providing the information accessibly does not interfere with the safety duties of employees.
- Covered flight information includes, but is not limited to, the following:
- flight safety
- procedures for takeoff and landing
- flight delays
- schedule or aircraft changes that affect people with disabilities
- diversion to another airport
- scheduled departure and arrival information
- boarding information
- weather conditions at the flight’s destination
- Beverage and menu information
- connecting gate assignments
- baggage claim
- individuals being paged
- Information related to the training of airline employees and contractors on effectively communicating with people with disabilities can be found in 14 C.F.R. § 382.141.
Assistance at Airports
Assistance in Moving Within the Terminal
Assistance in the terminal is addressed in 14 C.F.R. § 382.91. The important things to know are as follows:
- Airlines are responsible for helping us make connecting flights.
- If our flights are with two separate airlines, the airline on which we took the first leg of our trip is responsible for ensuring we have assistance to our second flight.
- Airlines must also provide assistance from the terminal entrance or a vehicle drop-off adjacent to the terminal entrance to the gate.
- At our departure location, airlines must provide assistance from the plane to the terminal entrance or a vehicle pick-up area adjacent to the terminal.
- This requirement includes assistance accessing key functions of the terminal like ticket counters and baggage areas.
- Our assistant has to let us make a “brief stop” at a restroom, including an accessible restroom, as long as it is on the way and stopping would not create an unreasonable delay.
- Airlines must work with airports to provide us assistance accessing an animal relief area.
- If our disability prevents us from carrying our bags, the airline must assist.
To and From Transportation
The requirement to assist us from a vehicle drop-off or a to a vehicle pick-up area adjacent to the terminal is absurdly impractical and assumes we always have someone without a disability available to drop us off and pick us up. In many instances, Uber and Lyft are restricted to certain areas, which sometimes are not adjacent to the terminal. If an airport offers a public transit option it may be adjacent to one terminal but not all terminals at an airport.
Assistance Boarding and Deplaning
The regulations governing assistance boarding and deplaning are set forth in 14 C.F.R. 382.95. Things to know are as follows:
- Assistance enplaning and deplaning must be “prompt.”
- The regulation also mandates assistance through the use of wheelchairs, lifts, and ramps, but that assistance depends on the airport in question having at least 10,000 flights each year.
Right to Assistance on the Aircraft
Preboarding is covered in 14 C.F.R. § 382.93. Preboarding must be offered if you need additional time boarding, stowing accessibility equipment, or locating a seat.
Assistance with Respect to Boarding and Deplaning
The regulations related to boarding and deplaning are established in 14 C.F.R. § 382.95. This section indicates that service enplaning and deplaning must be “prompt” The section further requires the use of ramps, lifts, and wheelchairs as needed in most circumstances.
Services Required on the Aircraft
Services to be provided on the aircraft are covered in 14 C.F.R. § 382.111. Things to know are as follows:
- Airlines must provide assistance moving to and from seats as a part of the enplaning and deplaning processes.
- Airlines must provide assistance in preparation of eating, including opening packaging and identifying food.
- If there is an onboard wheelchair, airlines must provide assistance moving around the plane, including to and from the restroom.
- Airlines are not required to carry us.
- Airlines must provide assistance stowing and retrieving carry-on items.
- Airlines must provide effective communication to those of us with visual disabilities, are deaf, or are hard of hearing so we have “prompt” access to the same information provided passengers without disabilities.
The Right to Travel with an Assistive Mobility Device or Service Animal
Assistive Mobility Devices
A few things to know about assistive mobility devices on planes are as follows:
- Airlines must allow assistive devices on planes as carry-ons free of charge consistent with safety regulations.
- This includes medical devices and/or a personal amount of medication.
- Assistive devices must not count against our carry-on limits.
Sections of the ACA related to traveling with assistive mobility devices are as follows:
- 14 C.F.R. § 382.67 (Priority Stowage of Wheelchairs in Cabin)
- 14 C.F.R § 382.121 (Assistive Devices in Cabin)
- C.F.R. § 382.125
- (Stowage of Assistive Devices in Cargo)
- 14 C.F.R. § 382.131 (Liability for Los, damage, or Delay of Assistive Devices)
Service Animals on aircrafts are covered in 14 C.F.R. § 382.72-80. Things to know about Service Animals on aircrafts are as follows:
- When it comes to airline travel, dogs are the only animals that qualify as service animals.
- Airlines can only ask two questions when determining if a dog qualifies as a service animal:
- Is the animal required to accompany the passenger because of a disability?
- What work or task related to the person’s disability has the dog been trained to perform?
- Airlines cannot ask about the nature or extent of our disability.
- Airlines cannot ask us to demonstrate the work or task our dog has been trained to perform.
- Airlines must allow our service animal to accompany us in the cabin unless
- The dog poses a direct Threat to the health or safety of others.
- The dog causes a significant disruption or misbehaves in the cabin or at the gate area.
- Transporting the dog would violate US law or the law of another country.
- Current DOT forms were not provided as required by the airline for the current trip.
- A decision by airline personnel to refuse a service animal transportation in the cabin must be based on an individualized and objective assessment of the dog that considers the nature of the risk and the likelihood that harm will actually or continue to occur.
- The assessment should also consider whether mitigation possibilities exist.
Service Animal Forms
The Department of Transportation’s Service Animal Air Transportation form must be completed every time your service animals rabies vaccine is updated.
Every airline is required to make this form available online and is encouraged to provide it as an accessible HTML form (not a PDF). There is no standard process for completing and submitting the form. Every time you fly on a new airline, you are very likely to need to complete the form again. Given the general disorganization of the airline industry, and the lack of meaningful government oversight of the airline industry you may be expected to complete the form every time you fly. Whether you do that or insist you have given it to that specific airline already is a personal choice.
If you are flying with a service animal, you really should ask the airline(s) you will be traveling with about their service animal forms as soon as you make your reservation. You should also let them know you understand you are covered by 14 C.F.R. § 382.81 (discussed below) and that you know they must provide a seat that will accommodate you and your service animal. When you make contact with airline(s) about flying with your service animal, make sure you understand the provisions related to block seating and priority seating (discussed in the next section) and ask the airline(s) which seating method they use.
For more information, visit DOT’s page on flying with a service animal.
Passengers entitled to Seating Accommodations
The people with disabilities entitled to seating accommodations are listed in 14 C.F.R. § 382.81. Things to know are as follows:
- If you use an aisle chair to access the aircraft and you cannot readily transfer over a fixed aisle armrest, you are entitled to a seat in a row with a movable aisle armrest.
- If you bring a personal care attendant (PCA) to assist with accommodations airlines must allow your PCA to sit next to you.
- If you travel with a service animal, you are entitled to either a bulkhead seat or another seat as requested by you.
- If you have a fused or immobilized leg, you are entitled to a bulkhead seat or other seat that provides greater legroom than other seats, on the side of an aisle that better accommodates your disability.
Mechanisms For Addressing Seating Accommodations
The mechanisms airlines must use to provide seating accommodations are set forth in 14 C.F.R. § 382.83.
Airlines are allowed to choose from three methods of ensuring people with disabilities entitled to seating accommodations get their accommodations: the block method; the priority method; and the other method meaning they do not assign seats in advance. Most airlines use either the block or priority method. The Department of Transportation has a web page where you can see which method of making seating accommodations each airline uses.
The block Method
If an airline chooses the block method, the following apply:
- The seats blocked for people with disabilities covered in 14 C.F.R. § 382.81 cannot be made available to people not entitled to accommodated seating until 24 hours before the flight is scheduled to depart.
- Any time prior to 24 hours before departure airlines must assign the blocked off seats to someone with a disability covered in 14 C.F.R. § 382.81.
- If you have a disability covered by 14 C.F.R § 382.81 and you do not request accommodated seating at least 24 hours prior to the scheduled departure, the airline is not required to move a person without a disability who has been assigned one of the previously blocked off seats.
The Priority Method
Things to know about the priority method are as follows:
- Airlines must notify passengers who purchase seats the airline has classified as priority that they are subject to being reassigned to a different seat to accommodate a person with a disability.
- If you request a seating accommodation and you are covered by 14 C.F.R. § 382.81 airlines using the priority method must assign you a seat meeting your need for accommodated seating.
- If you make a request for a seating accommodation and you are covered by 14 C.F.R § 382.81, the airline must grant the accommodation, but they can require you to check in at the airport an hour earlier than they require other passengers to do so.
- If you are covered by 14 C.F.R. 382.81, you request an accommodation, and you, if required, arrive at the airport an hour before other passengers are required to, the airline must reassign another passenger to provide your accommodation.
- If you are covered under 14 C.F.R. 382.81 but you do not check in at least an hour prior to the standard check-in time (if required by the airline), the airline must try accommodating you. But they do not have to reassign any passenger to accommodate you.
Additional Things to Know
- If an airline does not assign seats until the day of the departure, the airline must use the priority method when accommodating people with disabilities covered in 14 C.F.R. § 382.81.
- If airlines do not assign seats, they must allow people with disabilities covered in 14 C.F.R. § 382.81 to board the aircraft even before other people who qualify for preboarding.
Accommodations not Covered in 382.81
The seating accommodations process for people with disabilities not covered in 14 C.F.R. § 382.81 are established in 14 C.F.R. § 382.85.
Under the Block Method
If an airline uses the block method of assigning seats to people with disabilities and you are not covered by 14 C.F.R § 382.81, the following apply:
- If you request a seating accommodation more than 24 hours prior to departure, the airline is not required to offer you seat blocked for people covered by 14 C.F.R. § 382.81.
- The airlines must assign to you any other seat not already assigned to another passenger that meets your needs.
Under the Priority Method
When you are not covered by 14 C.F.R § 382.81 and the airline uses the priority method, the following apply:
- If you request a seating accommodation related to your disability, the airline must assign you a seat meeting your needs but they do not have to reassign another passenger.
- If the airline grants your request, they may require you to check in an hour prior to the standard check-in time.
- If you are assigned to a priority seat and someone covered by 14 C.F.R § 382.81 requests accommodated seating, the airline can relocate you regardless of your need for accommodated seating.
Additional Things to Know
- On flights where advanced seat assignments are not offered those of us with disabilities not covered by 14 C.F.R. § 382.81 airlines must allow us to board prior to everyone else , including other preboarders, and select our seat.
- If an airline assigns seats on the day of departure it must use the priority seating method.