Quad Cities, IL/IA

Working with the community... for a healthier community.

New Law Includes Protections for Flyers With Disabilities


Submitted by Richard M. Roller of Pearson Bollman Law

On October 5, 2018, President Trump signed the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018. As the title suggests, this bill reauthorized the Federal Aviation Administration and other programs through 2023. However, this bill also contains several important provisions to improve travel for people with disabilities.

According to the Census Bureau, about one in five Americans has some kind of disability, and one in ten has a severe disability. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that there were 764 million flyers in the 12-month period ending in July 2018. One can safely assume that millions of these passengers are disabled.

Air travelers with disabilities are more likely to encounter delays, missed flights, and even suffer personal injury. Most restrooms on planes were not designed to accommodate the disabled, especially if they require assistance. As a result, many resort to avoiding liquids or wear adult diapers when flying.

Specialized equipment for the disabled is often damaged. Shaun Castle, the Deputy Executive Director of Paralyzed Veterans of America and a service-disabled U.S. Army Veteran, has had his wheelchair bent, cracked, and even lost in separate incidents. “These are more than minor inconveniences,” he said. “If my wheelchair is damaged, it may mean I am stranded until I can get it repaired.”

The law establishes an Advisory Committee to determine the air travel needs of passengers with disabilities. The Committee, which will assess and address barriers in the air travel experience, will be comprised of people with disabilities, national disability organizations, aviation industry employees, wheelchair manufacturers, and national veterans’ organizations representing disabled veterans.

The Advisory Committee is also charged with reviewing current Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations related to airport accessibility best practices and a review of practices for ticketing, pre-flight assignments, and stowing of assistive devices for disabled passengers. The DOT will create a document that will describe, in plain language, the basic protections and responsibilities of covered air carriers, their employees and contractors, and people with disabilities. At a minimum, the Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights must address the rights of passengers with disabilities to be treated with dignity and respect, receive timely assistance when requested, travel with assistive devices, receive seating accommodations, receive announcements in an accessible format, and file complaints. The document will be displayed on airlines’ websites and be provided to any passengers who request disability-related assistance.

The DOT may increase the maximum penalty an airline may be required to pay for bodily harm or damage to a passenger’s wheelchair or other mobility aid by 300 percent of what is currently provided for under the law. This means airlines will face up to three times the maximum penalty of $32,140 for each incident of bodily injury or damage to a passenger’s wheelchair or other mobility aid, in addition to the current requirement that airlines reimburse the passenger for the full purchase price for each damaged mobility aid.

Within six months, revisions must be made to the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) officer training requirements to improve TSA screenings in collaboration with disability and Veterans’ organizations. TSA will also be responsible for recording and identifying frequent complaints and accommodations requested, which will be used to determine best practices and recommend training.

Within 60 days, the DOT must enforce a 2016 rule that requires airlines to report data for mishandled baggage and wheelchairs. Airlines are required to report the number of enplaned bags and the number of mishandled bags. If enforced, the rule will require separate statistics for mishandled wheelchairs and scooters that are transported in aircraft cargo compartments.

The law requires a report on the availability of lavatories on commercial aircraft, which must include the ability of disabled passengers to access them. The law also requires a study on the feasibility of in-cabin wheelchair restraint systems and subsequent accommodations, something the PVA has specifically lobbied for.

The law does not contain a deadline for the finalization or implementation of the Bill of Rights. But look for changes on your future flights.

Richard M. Roller is an attorney in the Bettendorf office of Pearson Bollman Law, located at 2414 18th Street in Bettendorf. The attorneys at Pearson Bollman law practice in the areas of estate planning, probate/trust administration, and in elder law, which includes Medicaid and VA Pension Planning. If you have any questions or would like to register for one of our free workshops on “Asset Protection for Seniors,” please feel free to contact Richard M. Roller at 563-355-8345.