Biden Administration Proposing New Standards for How Airlines Accommodate Travelers With Disabilities

( — On Thursday, February 29, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg made an announcement of his new proposal to change the standards for the way airlines work with passengers with disabilities and handle their wheelchairs. Buttigieg says that millions of Americans with disabilities experience air travel, which quite often results in damage to their wheelchairs and extensive inconvenience to themselves.

U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, who lost both of her legs in the Iraq war, joins Buttigieg in advocating for the changes. The new regulations would make mishandling and damaging the passengers’ wheelchairs a violation of the Air Carrier Access Act, with a fine of more than $100,000 per incident. The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), which is enforced by the Department of Transportation (DOT), protects disabled passengers against discrimination by airlines. The new rules would also make airlines liable for repairs or replacements of damaged wheelchairs, with a stipulation that such repairs or replacements be conducted in a timely manner.

Duckworth has been pushing to force airlines to disclose exactly how many wheelchairs they damage, and she says that in just a single month last year, airlines were responsible for breaking 892 wheelchairs. Accessible travel blogger Cory Lee commented that his wheelchair is damaged in some way roughly half the time he travels. DOT advisor Kelly Buckland emphasized that proper training of airline staff is crucial to protecting disabled passengers and their wheelchairs when they travel.

Buttigieg, along with Duckworth and Assistant to the President and White House Office of Public Engagement Director Stephen Benjamin, livestreamed a townhall from the White House for the proposed new standards, along with advocates for people with disabilities and aviation workers. Many of the advocates were pleased with the plan, although some said it didn’t go far enough. There is a provision for addressing lavatory standards and opening the discussion about making them large enough to accommodate people with disabilities as well as an attendant if they require assistance.

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