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AAPD Praises Department of Transportation Proposed Rule for Safe and Accessible Air Travel for Passengers with Disabilities

by | Feb 29, 2024 | Press Release

For Immediate Release: February 29, 2024

Contact: Jess Davidson at jdavidson@aapd.com; 202-975-0960 


WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the U.S. Department of Transportation released a long-awaited Notice of Proposed Rulemaking entitled Ensuring Safe Accommodations for Air Travelers with Disabilities Using Wheelchairs. This proposed rule would require prompt, safe, and dignified assistance for air travelers with disabilities, mandate training for airline and airport contractor personnel who assist passengers with disabilities, and establish new actions that airlines must take to protect passengers with disabilities when a wheelchair is broken or damaged during transport. 

“The American Association of People with Disabilities is pleased by the Department of Transportation’s continued efforts to ensure the safety and dignity of airline passengers with disabilities who use wheelchairs. For far too long, passengers with disabilities have been subject to personal injuries, loss of dignity, and loss of freedom and mobility due to broken or damaged wheelchairs and other mobility devices,” said Michael Lewis, AAPD Vice President of Policy, who attended Thursday’s White House ceremony where Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg announced the proposed rule.

“These proposed standards for the training of airline employees and airport contractors will go a long way in reducing injuries to both passengers as well as airline and contractor employees, provide passengers with a loaner wheelchair when theirs is broken or damaged during flight, and allow people with disabilities who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices to fly safely and with dignity,” Lewis concluded. 

The 10 largest U.S. airlines lost, damaged, or destroyed more than 11,000 wheelchairs and scooters in 2022, according to the Department of Transportation. When wheelchair and scooter users have their mobility aids broken, it is an expensive and dangerous problem with substantial administrative burden and wait times. Damage of a custom mobility aid can cause injury, further disability, and even death. Rulemaking on this matter is much-needed and overdue, and we are eager for the progress it will facilitate.

Airlines causing damage to and breaking critical devices that disabled people need is a problem not just limited to wheelchairs but also includes breathing machines, communication devices, and more. AAPD hopes that the devices covered by this rule will be expanded to be more inclusive of the devices that people with disabilities rely upon. 

Further, while we welcome training requirements for airport contractor personnel, we emphasize that until the quality of jobs for wheelchair assistants, baggage handlers, and other contracted personnel improve, the industry will continue to struggle with high turnover rates. We urge the Biden administration to examine the labor aspects of this issue in order to address it comprehensively. 

AAPD President and CEO Maria Town said, “Workers engage in unsafe practices that could harm their passengers and themselves because they are being stretched to the limit and required to work as quickly as they can. They do all this while earning poverty wages with little time off and navigating inadequate and inaccessible healthcare to take care of themselves. Often the workers themselves are older, dealing with their own disabilities, and becoming more disabled as a result of the physically demanding nature of this essential work. These factors will undoubtedly reduce the impact of even the best and most thorough training. We encourage Congress to join the Biden administration in their commitment to safety and dignity for disabled air passengers by passing the Good Jobs for Good Airports Act.

“AAPD looks forward to commenting on this proposed rule, and encourage the disability community to participate and share their own experiences during the comment period. We look forward to seeing this rule quickly finalized and implemented.” Town concluded.