Amid the summer travel surge, the Department of Transportation is putting pressure on airlines to provide more reliable and equitable services to all passengers.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced two initiatives Friday meant to give all travelers a better experience in the air: A bill of rights for disabled passengers and a notice urging airlines to prioritize seating families together.
What is the disabled passenger bill of rights?
The bill of rights is a summary of existing laws that protect disabled airline passengers. It outlines their rights, and the responsibilities airlines have to accommodate them. These include:
- The right to be treated with dignity and respect – a summary of antidiscrimination protections that cover air passengers.
- The right to receive information about services and aircraft capabilities and limitations – a requirement for airlines to provide accessibility information about their aircraft to disabled travelers.
- The right to receive information in an accessible format – a requirement that airline websites be accessible and accommodations that be made in the airport for hearing and visually impaired travelers.
- The right to accessible airport facilities – a requirement for airports and airplanes to be physically navigable for disabled travelers.
- The right to assistance at airports – a requirement that travelers receive help getting on and off the plane, and to and from the gate as needed.
- The right to assistance on the aircraft – a requirement for airlines to allow pre-boarding for passengers who need extra time, and help getting to and from their seat if needed.
- The right to travel with an assistive device or service animal – the requirement for these animals or devices to be accommodated onboard.
- The right to receive seating accommodations – these can include a moveable armrest to ease access for wheelchair users, bulkhead seating to accommodate service animals or an adjoining seat for an assistant.
- The right to accessible aircraft features – these include priority stowage for wheelchairs on larger aircraft, and at least one accessible bathroom on most planes in passenger service.
- The right to resolution of a disability-related issue – a requirement that airlines make complaint resolution officials available at the passenger’s request.
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What is the requirement for families sitting together?
Although it’s not an enforceable law, the DOT’s new policy “urges” airlines to seat travelers 13 and younger with their guardians at no extra charge. This has been a more high-profile issue as basic economy tickets, which usually do not include advanced seat selection, become more common.
Addressing consumer complaints
In the announcement, the DOT also acknowledged that consumer complaints against airlines are up 300% over pre-pandemic levels. The two largest categories for complaints are difficulty getting refunds and “flight problems” including cancellations and delays.