03.09.21

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin and Representative Jim Langevin Introduce Legislation to Protect Rights of Airplane Passengers with Disabilities

Air Carrier Access Amendments Act would improve air travel safety and close service gaps that passengers with disabilities face in air travel

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Representative Jim Langevin (D-RI) today reintroduced the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act to protect the rights of airplane passengers with disabilities, improve air travel safety and close service gaps that passengers with disabilities frequently encounter in air travel.

“We need to break down the barriers that individuals with disabilities face when they travel,” said Senator Baldwin. “Equal access to air travel for individuals with disabilities is about fairness and freedom. This legislation will enhance the rights and safety of airline passengers with disabilities, including our veterans.”

“Although we have made progress in the last 35 years to address barriers in plane travel for people with disabilities, I know personally that challenges remain,” said Rep. Langevin, the first quadriplegic elected to Congress. “It’s past time we update the standard of air travel and make services more inclusive and responsive to individual needs. This critical legislation presents an opportunity to build upon the Air Carrier Access Act by improving accessibility, enhancing assistance, and ensuring greater civil rights protections.”

“People with disabilities shouldn’t have to face extra obstacles when they travel,” said Rep. Titus. “This legislation will help make our airports and airplanes more accessible and accommodating for all.”

For 35 years, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) has prohibited discrimination based on disability in air travel. Despite this effort, too many travelers with disabilities encounter significant barriers—such as damaged assistive devices and wheelchairs, delayed assistance, ineffective communications, and lack of seating accommodations. In 2018, passengers filed 36,930 disability-related complaints with air carriers, which represents an 8 percent increase over 2017. The majority of these complaints were related to failure to provide assistance and seating accommodation.

The Air Carrier Access Amendments Act is cosponsored in the Senate by Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Bob Casey (D-PA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH). The House companion legislation is cosponsored by  Representatives Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Dina Titus (D-NV).

The Air Carrier Access Amendments Act will:

  • Strengthen ACAA enforcement by requiring DOT to levy civil penalties for violations and refer complaints to the Department of Justice for possible further enforcement and establishing of a private right of action.
  • Ensure new airplanes are designed to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities by requiring airlines to meet defined accessibility standards. These standards will address safe and effective boarding and deplaning, visually accessible announcements, seating accommodations, lavatories, and better stowage options for assistive devices.
  • Require removal of access barriers on existing airplanes to the extent that it is readily achievable, easily accomplishable, and may be done without much difficulty or expense.
  • Improve the overall safety of air travel for passengers with disabilities.

Senator Baldwin has long been an advocate for ensuring equal access to air travel for all individuals and she previously worked to include a number of key measures in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 to protect the rights of disabled airplane passengers and close service gaps.

The Air Carrier Access Amendments Act is supported by Paralyzed Veterans of America, ALS Association, Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago, American Association of People with Disabilities, American Council of the Blind, The Arc of the United States, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, Cure SMA, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, Easterseals, Epilepsy Foundation, Muscular Dystrophy Association, National Association of the Deaf, National Council on Independent Living, National Disability Rights Network, National Federation of the Blind, National Multiple Sclerosis Society and United Spinal Association, AMVETS, Blinded Veterans Association, The American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America, VetsFirst and Wounded Warrior Project.

“PVA appreciates Senator Baldwin's commitment to improving the air travel experience of passengers with disabilities. Passage of the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act will move air travel into the 21st century by requiring airplanes to meet accessibility standards and strengthening enforcement of the law. Without these changes, passengers with disabilities, including paralyzed veterans, will continue to suffer personal injuries and damages to their wheelchairs when traveling by air,” said Heather Ansley, Esq., MSW, Associate Executive Director of Government Relations of Paralyzed Veterans of America.

"We're proud to have Sen. Baldwin champion our efforts in alleviating difficulties in air travel for persons with disabilities.  Everyone deserves the choice to travel by air without jeopardizing or compromising their personal safety and comfort," said Scott E. Griffith, Government Relations Director/Treasurer of Paralyzed Veterans of America Wisconsin Chapter.

“The Arc Wisconsin supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who have experienced first-hand difficulties in their air travel, including having the assistive devices and wheelchairs that they depend upon damaged,” said Lisa Pugh, State Director of The Arc Wisconsin. “This important bill addresses these concerns and is an important step in ensuring that people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities are not discriminated against when traveling,” said Lisa Pugh, State Director of The Arc Wisconsin.

“The passage of the original Air Carrier Access Act  35 years ago was an important step towards equal access to travel, but more work remains to be done.  Disability Rights Wisconsin applauds Senator Baldwin for reintroducing the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act, which will increase access, safety, and protections for travelers with disabilities, who face limited recourse when faced with damage to their equipment or encounter numerous other barriers to air travel,” said Bill Crowley, Disability Rights Wisconsin.

“On behalf of the nearly 2 million members of the American Legion, I am pleased to extend our support for the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act of 2021. This legislation would greatly improve safety and remove barriers of accessibility to air travel for veterans with disabilities,” said James W. “Bill” Oxford, National Commander of The American Legion. “The American Legion is proud to support this legislation and calls for this bill to be expeditiously passed through Congress.”

A summary of the legislation is available here. Text of the Senate legislation is available here.