The major problem with commercial air travel continues to be that airplanes have very few accessibility features to accommodate passengers with disabilities. Unlike other forms of mass transportation which allow wheelchair users to travel while seated in their wheelchairs, commercial air travel requires power wheelchair users to have their highly customized, expensive devices stowed in the cargo hold for the flight. This leaves baggage handlers to figure out how to fit these devices into cargo holds not designed to receive or stow them. It also leaves the passengers who depend on them anxious that their device will not be returned to them in a usable condition.
On July 20, the House passed H.R. 3935, the Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act. This legislation would reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for five years. We are pleased that the legislation includes several important provisions that would improve the air travel experience for people with disabilities. Some of these provisions include training requirements for assisting passengers with limited mobility and properly stowing assistive devices; improving the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) complaint process; and addressing the need for more access standards. The bill also requires continued study into safe and secure in-cabin wheelchair restraint systems; and for DOT to perform a more in-depth analysis of mishandled wheelchairs as reported by airlines. Additionally, the legislation reauthorizes the Air Carrier Access Act Advisory Committee and includes a focus on the needs of passengers with disabilities in evacuations. The bill includes elements of the PVA-supported Air Carrier Access Amendments Act (ACAAA) (H.R. 1267) and the MOBILE Act (H.R. 3082).
The Senate's version of the FAA Reauthorization Act, S. 1939, also includes several disability-related provisions, including elements of the MOBILE Act (S. 1459). We support adding amendments based on the ACAAA (S. 545) that would improve the disability-related complaint process and improve disability access standards. Committee action on the bill has been delayed.
Congress must ensure that the final version of this year's FAA Reauthorization includes provisions that will meaningfully improve the air travel experience of passengers with disabilities. Such provisions include, at a minimum, increased training for workers, better data collection and analysis, improved complaint processing, continued study into the ability of passengers to fly while seated in their wheelchairs, and improved disability access standards.