A critical issue to the disability community, accessible air travel is one of MDA’s policy priorities, and we are pleased to be working closely with policy makers, federal agencies, industry, and other advocacy and disability rights organizations to help improve access to air travel for MDA families. Since access to air travel is essential to being able to live, work or go to school where you choose—and can determine whether someone can see a specialty provider or participate in a clinical trial that is far from home—accesses to air travel is essential to living unlimited.
At the end of 2016 we asked the MDA community about their experiences with air travel. We received more than 2,000 responses, and we thank you everyone who took the time to participate in the survey.
As evidenced by the survey results, access to air travel remains a challenge for many in the disability community. This is consistent with the most recent report to Congress from the Department of Transportation (DOT) about accessible air travel complaints. The most current report (from 2015) reports DOT reported complaints from both domestic (36 U.S. carriers) and foreign carriers (140 foreign carriers). The total number of complains was up from approximately 26,000 in 2014 to over 30,000 in 2015—an increase of 15 percent.
Our survey results show that only 4 percent of respondents indicated filing a formal complaint with DOT for disability related access issues and more than half of those surveyed didn’t know they could file a complaint. These responses indicate that the numbers sent out to Congress each year may be not be representative of the scope of access issues passengers with disabilities face. Of the complaints set out in the 2015 DOT report, nearly half of the complaints (over 14,000) concerned the failure to provide adequate assistance to persons using wheelchairs. The significance of this challenge is also confirmed in the MDA survey results, showing about half of respondents reporting similar issues.
However, there is positive progress to report. Many airlines have dedicated webpages to providing guidance and support to travelers with disabilities (you can reach them from MDA’s accessible air travel resource center). Also, recently DOT has made great efforts to educate air carriers and the passenger community about not only the increase in complaints but also training and best practices when it comes to travelers with disabilities. They have held in-person meetings, conducted webinars and released educational materials for all parties. Most recently, DOT published a new series of disability-related training materials for airlines and passengers with disabilities on the four areas where DOT receives the greatest number of complaints: (1) wheelchair and guide assistance; (2) stowage, loss, delay and damage of wheelchairs and other mobility assistive devices; (3) aircraft seating accommodations; and (4) travel with service animals.
While there are efforts in place to increase access to air travel, there is still much to be done to improve the rights of passengers with disabilities during air travel. Recently, the U.S. Senate introduced a bill that strengthens the rights of disabled passengers under the Air Carrier Access Act. Included in the bill are provisions to:
- Strengthen enforcement to include specific protections of the rights of passengers with disabilities and recourse when those rights are violated;
- Ensure airplanes are designed to accommodate people with disabilities and airlines meet accessibility standards, including safe and effective boarding and deplaning;
- Provide better stowage options for assistive devices;
- Improve access to seating accommodations;
- Close service gaps in air travel for passengers with disabilities; and
- Require that the U.S. Access board conduct a study to determine the ways in which individuals who use assistive devices can be accommodated through cabin wheelchair restraint systems.
MDA is proud to support this legislation and looks forward to providing our community with updates regarding accessible air travel. As this legislation and the upcoming reauthorization for the Federal Aviation Administration advances, we will be providing opportunities to take action and will be keeping you up to date and engaged as the policy issues evolve around accessible air travel.
Become an advocate so you can receive updates about accessible air travel and other key policy and advocacy initiatives directly to your inbox. Whether or not you are a passenger living with a disability, we need your help to ensure greater access to air travel. Please join us—together, we are stronger.