Lawmakers Seek To Improve Air Travel For People With Disabilities
A bipartisan group of lawmakers is looking to institute new requirements in order to make air travel easier for passengers with disabilities.
Legislation introduced this month in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives calls for the Department of Transportation to research the technical and financial feasibility of allowing individuals to remain in their wheelchairs during flights.
In addition, the bill would require the secretary of transportation to issue rules mandating that airlines publish dimensions of their cargo holds so that people with disabilities can determine whether or not their wheelchairs and other mobility devices will fit on a particular aircraft. The Transportation Department would also be tasked with evaluating the frequency and types of damage incurred by wheelchairs and scooters during air travel.
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“As a frequent flyer whose wheelchair is regularly broken or damaged, I understand firsthand how deeply frustrating it is that our aviation system still fails to make sure every passenger with a disability is treated with dignity and respect,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., one of the lawmakers who introduced the bill. “It’s long past time we make flying easier and more accessible for the millions of Americans with disabilities who travel by air each year.”
The bill known as the Mobility Aids on Board Improve Lives and Empower All, or MOBILE, Act was also introduced by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Reps. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Pete Stauber, R-Minn.
Data from the Transportation Department shows that airlines mishandled 11,389 wheelchairs and scooters in 2022 alone. That’s up from 7,239 the year prior.
In addition to the bill, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg is under pressure to beef up enforcement of the Air Carrier Access Act, the federal law that protects the rights of people with disabilities when they fly.
In a letter this month, Cohen along with Reps. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., and Dina Titus, D-Nev., asked Buttigieg to review his agency’s enforcement of the law and sought information about how many disability-related complaints are dismissed or result in penalties.
Marlene Sallo, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, applauded the call for greater transparency.
“Being able to file a complaint is an important first step,” she said. “But Americans with disabilities deserve to know that when they report an abuse of their rights, it will be investigated and resolved.”
For his part, Buttigieg indicated last summer that the Transportation Department is working toward issuing a rule allowing individuals with disabilities to remain in their wheelchairs on airplanes, but he acknowledged at the time that it “won’t happen overnight.”
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