Air Passengers with Disabilities
The Air Carriers Access Act (ACAA) applies to all United States air carriers and foreign carriers that have flights that start or terminate at a U.S. airport. Under the Act, air carriers are prohibited from discriminating against air passengers with disabilities -- whether mental, physical, or both. Discrimination occurs when people are treated unfairly because of their disabilities.
Air carriers have a duty to provide reasonable accommodation to people with disabilities. This means that carriers generally must accommodate individuals with disabilities unless it creates a safety or health risk to others or causes undue hardship. Below, you'll find explanations of certain rights protected under the ACAA.
Planning Your Air Travel
In general, air carriers may not require air passengers with disabilities to provide a medical certificate related to their condition. Moreover, people with disabilities cannot be required to provide advance notice that they are traveling. However, if the air carrier needs to make prior arrangements for certain services, such as a medical respirator hook-up or an incubator carriage, the air carrier can require up to 48 hours of notice.
In addition, an air carrier may not prohibit a person with a disability from traveling unless it determines that the disability is a direct threat to the health or safety of others. In that instance, the air carrier must provide the individual with a written decision of its actions. Furthermore, air carriers cannot restrict the number of persons with disabilities on a flight. However, if a group of 10 or more people with disabilities is traveling together, an air carrier can require advance notice up to 48 hours.
Finally, air carriers generally may not require disabled air passengers to travel with an attendant, except in certain situations. If the passenger asserts that he or she doesn't need an attendant, but the air carrier determines otherwise, the carrier may not charge for the attendant.
Boarding Your Flight
Air carriers are prohibited from applying different Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening criteria to passengers with disabilities. As a result, carriers generally may not subject people with assistive devices or mobility aids to special screenings if they're cleared by the security system. However, air carriers have the discretion to examine the mobility aid or assistive device if they feel that it may be concealing a prohibited item such as a utility knife.
Air carriers must provide disabled passengers with boarding assistance if needed. They are also required to make sure that terminals are accessible to all passengers including those with wheelchairs. In addition, disabled passengers have the right to fly with their service animals free of charge. Generally, carriers must allow the service animal to sit with the passenger. In such cases, persons with disabilities generally don't have to provide documentation about their service animal prior to their flight, except in situations involving an eight hour or longer flight or an emotional support or psychiatric service animal.
Complaint Resolution Official
Each air carrier is required to provide a Complaint Resolution Official (CRO) at the airport to resolve complaints regarding violations of the ACAA. Air carriers are prohibited from charging for this service. The CRO may be available in-person or by telephone.
The CRO generally must make a written determination and provide information about the right to pursue an enforcement action with Department of Transportation (DOT). Air passengers with disabilities also may choose to file a written complaint. However, they should do so in a timely manner because air carriers aren't required to issue a response to complaints postmarked more than 45 days after the alleged act of discrimination occurred. Air passengers with disabilities can contact DOT about pursuing an enforcement action against the air carrier. DOT operates a free telephone hotline and a website where passengers can file online complaints.
Because the ACAA doesn't provide a private cause of action, people with disabilities are precluded from filing lawsuits based on alleged violations. However, other civil rights laws may provide grounds for a lawsuit against an air carrier. As a result, an attorney should be contacted for legal advice. This should be done in a timely manner, because a law known as a statute of limitations may restrict the time to pursue legal action.