Capitol Correspondence - 03.05.24

Ensuring Dignity in Air Travel: Secretary Buttigieg Proposes Historic Rule for Passengers Using Wheelchairs

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U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has unveiled a new   from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), marking a leap forward in safeguarding the rights of airline passengers who use wheelchairs. The proposed rule aims to establish stringent standards for the safe and dignified accommodation of passengers with disabilities, including enhanced training for airline employees and contractors, specific actions to protect passengers in case of wheelchair damage, and penalties for mishandling wheelchairs. If enacted, this rule would represent the most substantial expansion of rights for wheelchair-using airline passengers since 2008 according to DOT.

The proposed rule addresses key areas:

  1. Penalties and Remedies for Wheelchair Mishandling:
    • Designates mishandling of assistive devices, like wheelchairs, as an automatic violation of the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).
    • Mandates prompt repair or replacement of damaged wheelchairs, offering options for both carriers and passengers.
    • Requires airlines to provide loaner wheelchairs during repair or replacement.
  2. Safe, Dignified, and Prompt Assistance:
    • Proposes enhanced annual training for airline employees assisting passengers with mobility disabilities.
    • Sets a 24-hour limit for the return of delayed wheelchairs and mandates safe and dignified assistance.
    • Demands prompt assistance during boarding, deplaning, and within the airport terminal.
  3. Improved Standards on Planes:
    • Introduces enhanced performance standards for on-board wheelchairs on various aircraft.
    • Requires timely notifications to passengers about loading and unloading of wheelchairs from cargo compartments.

The proposed rule seeks comments on additional issues, including increasing lavatory size standards on twin-aisle aircraft to be sufficient for both a passenger and an attendant to enter and maneuver within it. Secretary Buttigieg has prioritized improving air travel for people with disabilities, evident in the Department’s previous rules regarding accessible lavatories and the Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights.

DOT encourages public and stakeholder input, with comments accepted within 60 days of the notice being published in the Federal Register. Travelers can explore their rights at, and consumer complaints can be filed with DOT regarding an air travel problem.