A bill of rights for airline passengers with disabilities and enhanced disability training for Transportation Security Administration officers are on the way under a new federal law.

Among the improvements enacted in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, this legislation will:

  • Increase civil penalties for bodily harm to a passenger with a disability and damage to wheelchairs or other mobility aids;
  • Require that DOT review, and if necessary, revise regulations ensuring passengers with disabilities receive dignified, timely and effective assistance at airports and on aircraft;
  • Create the Advisory Committee on the Air Travel Needs of Passengers with Disabilities to identify barriers to air travel for individuals with disabilities and recommend consumer protection improvements;
  • Require that the new Advisory Committee review airline practices for ticketing, preflight seat assignments and stowing of assistive devices, and make recommendations as needed; and
  • Mandate the DOT develop an Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights, in consultation with stakeholders, describing rights of passengers with disabilities and responsibilities of air carriers;

The American Foundation for the Blind applauds this bipartisan legislation, as we know from many a blind traveler that negotiating airports and aircrafts can make for an unpredictable experience.

To that end, another part of this new legislation directs the Department of Transportation to set a final rule for service animals on planes in the next 18 months, including a service animal definition and minimum standards. This particular aspect is one we will monitor closely. As we stated several months ago, when Delta Airlines announced their intention to implement “advance documentation requirements” for customers traveling with service animals, we would strongly oppose any policies that would create an undue burden and deny equal access of service for passengers traveling with a service animal.

That said, this law represents a positive step forward and we will continue to support efforts to make travel by any means more accessible for people with disabilities., especially those who are blind or visually impaired.