A new guide from the U.S. Department of Transportation is spelling out the rules air carriers must follow when dealing with travelers who have autism and other developmental disabilities.

The federal agency sent guidance to airlines this summer detailing their responsibilities under the Air Carrier Access Act. Developed in coordination with The Arc and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the documentation does not lay out any new requirements, but clarifies existing rules for airlines and travelers, the agency said.

“Recent incidents highlight the need for a guidance document focusing on developmental disabilities, to assist individuals on the autism spectrum and individuals with other developmental disabilities know their rights,” the Department of Transportation said in a statement to Disability Scoop.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Earlier this year, a 15-year-old with autism and her family were kicked off of a United Airlines flight after the teen’s mother sought a hot meal to calm the girl mid-flight. The incident, which garnered national attention, prompted the Autistic Self Advocacy Network to request clarification from the Transportation Department on the responsibilities of airlines when serving passengers with autism and other disabilities.

Under federal rules, airlines can deny boarding or remove a passenger with a disability from a flight if they believe the individual “poses a significant risk to the health or safety of others” that cannot be addressed by modifying typical policies or procedures.

However, such action cannot be taken based on an assumed risk associated with a person’s diagnosis, the Transportation Department said.

For example, the document indicates that a person with a disability could be removed from a flight if they repeatedly kick the seat in front of them unless the behavior could be accommodated by moving the passenger to a different seat where kicking would not affect others on the plane.

If a person is denied access to a scheduled flight due to their disability, airlines must provide a written explanation within 10 days, the Transportation Department said.

The guidance directs airlines to consider a person’s disability when communicating with passengers. It also offers air carriers information about developmental disabilities and gives examples of common behaviors and communication challenges that individuals may exhibit.

Travelers with disabilities are encouraged to contact airlines in advance of their scheduled flight to discuss their anticipated needs while at the airport and in flight.

Read more stories like this one. Sign up for Disability Scoop's free email newsletter to get the latest developmental disability news sent straight to your inbox.