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Your Rights When Traveling with a Mobility Impairment

by | Oct 25, 2019 | The Term Reporter, Travel

 

Quick Facts

  • Your carrier may require you to provide up to 48 hours’ advance notice and check in 1 hour earlier than normal to guarantee certain services.
  • Your carrier must provide help with moving throughout the airport if you need it and request it due to your disability.
  • You will still be subject to standard TSA screening requirements, even if you are escorted by a carrier.
  • You may pre-board if you self-identify at the gate as having a disability which requires more time or help with boarding, stowing your mobility aid, or being seated.
  • If you tell the carrier that you have a disability which requires a seating accommodation, then the carrier must make that accommodation if it is available on your specific plane.
  • In order to guarantee you will be able to receive these accommodations, you must request them at least 24 hours before your flight’s departure time and check in at least one hour earlier than the general public.
  • Carriers are required to permit manual wheelchairs and other mobility aids into the cabin, provided they can be stowed in a designated area.

    Introduction

    According to the Carrier Access Act, carriers may not discriminate against individuals with a disability.1 In order to carry out this Act, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) published part 382 in the Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.).2 These rules outline many of the rights airline passengers with disabilities have and how carriers must accommodate these rights. All U.S. carriers must comply with these rules, and foreign carriers must comply for flights to/from the U.S.3 We have read through these rules, and this article will lay out what rights you have if you are someone with a vision and/or hearing impairment.

    Before Your Trip

    You are not required to provide advance notice that you will be on a flight.1 However, a carrier may require you to provide up to 48 hours’ advance notice and check in 1 hour earlier than normal for the following services: traveling in a stretcher, transporting an electric wheelchair on a plane with less than 60 seats, traveling in a group of 10 or more disabled individuals, or using an on-board wheelchair on a plane (with more than 60 seats) without an accessible lavatory.2 Additionally, a carrier may require you to check in 1 hour earlier than normal if you want to check a battery-powered wheelchair.3 If you do not provide advance notice or check in early for these services, the carrier must still make a reasonable effort to accommodate you without delaying the flight.4

    At the Airport

                If you need help moving throughout the airport because of your disability, then you should request help from your carrier, as it is required to either provide or ensure help is provided.5 However, you will still be subject to standard TSA screening requirements, even if you are escorted by a carrier. Your carrier may also impose additional screening requirements. If the carrier reasonably believes that a prohibited item is hidden in your mobility aid (e.g., wheelchair, crutches), then it may examine it. But, if your mobility aid sets off the TSA security system, then the carrier may search you and the mobility aid. No other screenings may be performed on the basis of your disability alone.6

    Boarding and Deplaning

                If you stow your wheelchair in the cabin of the plane, then you are entitled to pre-board the plane.7 You may also pre-board if you self-identify at the gate as having a disability which requires more time or help with boarding, stowing your mobility aid, or being seated.8 Even if you do not pre-board, your carrier is required to provide assistance with boarding and deplaning, upon your request, through the use of various types of wheelchairs and/or motorized carts where applicable. If a level loading bridge is not available, then the carrier must (with some exceptions) use a lift or ramp to help you board and deplane at U.S. airports with at least 10,000 annual enplanements.9 After you request assistance with boarding, deplaning, or connecting with another flight, the carrier may not leave you unattended for longer than 30 minutes while you are in a mobility aid and cannot move by yourself.10

     On the Plan

    Seating Accommodations

                If you tell the carrier that you have a disability which requires a seating accommodation, then the carrier must make that accommodation if it is available on your specific plane. For example, if you are unable to get in/out of a seat with an armrest, then you may request to be moved to a row with movable armrests. Or, if your leg is immobilized, then you may request to be moved to either a bulkhead seat, or another seat with more leg room than normal, on the side of the plane that is better for your leg.11 Additionally, the carrier must provide an adjoining seat for your in-flight assistant if your assistant will perform tasks that the flight crew are not required to do, or if your assistant was required by the carrier.12 In order to guarantee you will be able to receive these accommodations, you must request them at least 24 hours before your flight’s departure time and check in at least one hour earlier than the general public. If you do not do this, then the carrier must still try to accommodate you reasonably, but it is not required to reassign another passenger’s seat for you.13

    In-Flight Assistance

                While on-board the plane, the carrier must provide the following services at the passenger’s request:

    (1) help with moving to/from your seat while boarding and deplaning,

    (2) help with the on-board wheelchair to use the lavatory, and

    (3) help with stowing and retrieving carry-on items.14

    You should also note that the carrier personnel are not required to provide assistance within the lavatory or provide medical services.15

    Mobility Aids

                Carriers are required to permit manual wheelchairs and other mobility aids into the cabin, provided they can be stowed in a designated area.16 These items will not count toward the carrier’s carry-on policy, however, the number of mobility aids allowed could be restricted, so you should check with your carrier if you need to bring more than one.17

    More Resources 

    For additional information check out our articles on traveling with a service or emotional support animal, traveling with a hearing or vision impairment, and traveling with a medical device.

    References

    1 14 C.F.R. § 382.25 (2018).
    2 14 C.F.R. § 382.27(c) (3), (4), (6), (7) (2018).
    3 14 C.F.R. § 382.127(a)-(b) (2018).
    4 14 C.F.R. § 382.27(g) (2018).
    5 14 C.F.R. § 382.91(a)-(d) (2018).
    6
    14 C.F.R. § 382.55 (2018).
    7 14 C.F.R. § 382.67(f) (2018).
    8 14 C.F.R. § 382.93 (2018).
    9 14 C.F.R. § 382.95(a)-(b) (2018).
    10 14 C.F.R. § 382.103 (2018).
    11 14 C.F.R. § 382.81(a), (d) (2018).
    12 14 C.F.R. § 382.81(b)(1), (4) (2018).
    13 14 C.F.R. § 382.83(a)(1)(iii) (2018); 14 C.F.R. § 382.83(a)(2)(iv) (2018).
    14 14 C.F.R. § 382.111(a), (c), (e) (2018).
    15 14 C.F.R. § 382.113(a)-(c) (2018).
    16 14 C.F.R. § 382.121(a)(1)-(3) (2018).
    17 14 C.F.R. § 382.121(b) (2018).

    Authors

    Matt Matsuyama

    Contract Analyst Intern, TermScout  

    Ben Golopol

    Contract Analyst, TermScout  

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