Amid the summer travel storm, the Department of Transportation is putting pressure on airlines to offer more reliable and equitable services to all passengers.
Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Friday announced two initiatives designed to offer all travelers a better in-flight experience: a charter of rights for disabled passengers and a notice urging airlines to prioritize family seating.
What is the Charter of Rights for Disabled Passengers?
The Bill of Rights is a summary of existing laws protecting disabled air passengers. It outlines their rights and the obligations that airlines have to meet them. These include:
- The right to be treated with dignity and respect – a summary of the anti-discrimination protections that apply to air passengers.
- The right to information about aircraft services and capabilities and limitations – a requirement for airlines to provide disabled travelers with information about the accessibility of their aircraft.
- The right to receive information in an accessible format – a requirement that airline websites must be accessible and that airport accommodation must be provided for hearing and visually impaired travelers.
- The right to accessible airport facilities – a requirement that airports and aircraft are physically navigable for disabled travellers.
- The right to assistance at airports – a requirement that travelers receive assistance to and from boarding, disembarking and getting to and from the gate when needed.
- The right to in-flight assistance – a requirement for airlines to allow passengers who need extra time to pre-board and provide assistance boarding and disembarking to their seat if needed.
- The right to travel with an assistive device or service animal – the requirement that such animal or device be accommodated on board.
- The right to be provided with seating – these may include a moveable armrest to facilitate wheelchair access, seats in partitions to accommodate service animals, or an adjacent seat for an assistant.
- The right to aircraft accessibility – this includes priority stowage of wheelchairs on larger aircraft and at least one accessible bathroom on most aircraft in passenger service.
- The right to have a disability-related issue resolved – a requirement that airlines must make officers available to resolve complaints at the passenger’s request.
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What is the requirement for families to sit together?
While not an enforceable law, the DOT’s new policy “pushes” airlines into carrying travelers under the age of 13 with their legal guardian at no extra charge. This has been a much more publicized issue as basic economy tickets, which typically do not include advanced seat selection, are becoming more common.
Handling consumer complaints
In the announcement, the DOT also acknowledged that consumer complaints against airlines are up 300% from pre-pandemic levels. The two biggest categories of complaints are difficulties in getting refunds and “flight problems”, including cancellations and delays.