New DOT Regulations to Enforce Fines for Airlines Mishandling Wheelchairs

By Ivan PetrenkoFeb 29, 2024 22:04 PMNews
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Black and gray wheelchair on beach during daytime
Black and gray wheelchair on beach during daytime. Source: unsplash

In a groundbreaking move by the Department of Transportation (DOT), a new rule has been proposed to safeguard the rights and dignity of travelers with mobility limitations, particularly those reliant on wheelchairs. Spearheaded by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, this initiative is poised to dramatically enhance the air travel experience for millions of Americans.

Elevating Standards for Accessibility

The DOT's initiative introduces stringent requirements for airlines to ensure the provision of prompt, safe, and dignified assistance to passengers with disabilities. This includes an extensive training program for both airline employees and contractors, focusing on the adept handling of wheelchairs and offering the necessary assistance with the utmost care and respect.

Under the proposed rule, any mishandling of wheelchairs—encompassing damage, delay, loss, or theft—will be automatically deemed a violation of the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), signaling a significant shift towards accountability and respect for passenger rights.

Addressing a Critical Need

Secretary Buttigieg underscored the urgent need for this regulation, highlighting the reluctance of many individuals with disabilities to fly due to repeated failures in receiving appropriate assistance. The proposed changes aim to restore confidence among travelers with mobility limitations, ensuring they can fly safely and with dignity.

Comprehensive Mishandling Penalties

The new rule meticulously defines 'mishandling' of mobility devices and mandates immediate notification to affected passengers, informing them of their rights and the process for filing claims. Airlines will be required to provide suitable loaner wheelchairs, facilitate repairs or replacements through preferred vendors, and ensure the availability of a Complaints Resolution Officer (CRO) to address any concerns.

In instances of mishandling, carriers are obliged to either repair or replace the mobility device with an equivalent or superior model within a reasonable timeframe, covering all associated costs.

Enhancing Service and Assistance

To combat the frequent reports of unsafe and undignified assistance, the DOT proposes that airline personnel involved in aiding passengers with mobility challenges receive annual hands-on training. This measure aims to equip them with the necessary skills to offer appropriate support, thereby reducing the risk of physical and emotional distress to passengers.

Moreover, the regulation mandates that airlines provide swift assistance at various stages of the flying process, ensuring that mobility devices are returned to passengers as swiftly as possible, ideally within 24 hours of arrival.

As the proposal enters the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) phase, the DOT invites feedback from stakeholders on several key issues, including lavatory size standards on widebody aircraft and compensation for passengers forced to book alternative flights due to the incompatibility of their mobility device with the aircraft.

This landmark proposal by the DOT marks a significant step forward in making air travel more accessible and respectful for all passengers, particularly those navigating the challenges of mobility limitations.

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