New DOT Rule Increases Protections for Air Travelers with Disabilities

As the result of a new rule issued yesterday by the U.S. Department of Transportation that strengthens the existing regulation implementing the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and extends it to foreign airlines, people with disabilities will have additional protections against discrimination when they travel by air.

The new rule will apply to foreign air carriers operating a flight that begins or ends in the United States. It applies to U.S. air carrier operations worldwide. Passengers flying to Europe, Asia, or other destinations on foreign air carriers now will have similar protections against discriminatory policies and be entitled to the same accommodations as passengers flying on U.S. carriers. DOT will also be better able to take enforcement action against a foreign carrier if it discriminates against an individual because of his or her disability on flights to or from the United States.

"This revised rule expands the protections people with disabilities will enjoy while traveling by air," U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters said.

The new rule will also make it easier for passengers to use medical oxygen during flights by requiring airlines to allow the use in the passenger cabin of portable oxygen concentrators that meet applicable safety, security, and hazardous materials requirements for safe use aboard aircraft.

DOT will seek further comment in a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (SNPRM) about whether airlines should be required to provide medical oxygen to passengers upon request. SNPRM will also address subjects such as accessibility of airline web sites, automated ticketing kiosks, and in flight entertainment systems.

The rule will also provide greater accommodations for passengers with hearing impairments. It will require airlines to include easy-to-read captions for the hearing-impaired in its safety and informational videos. Airlines also must promptly provide the same information to hearing- and vision-impaired passengers that it provides to other passengers in airport terminals or on the aircraft--such as information on boarding, flight delays, schedule changes, weather conditions at the flight's destination, connecting gate assignments, checking and claiming of baggage, and emergencies. The rule does not specify how carriers should make this information available to passengers who are deaf or hard of hearing.

ACAA, enacted by Congress in 1986, prohibits airlines from discriminating against disabled passengers. The new rule will be effective in one year to give carriers enough time to begin implementing its provisions. The text of the final rule is available at www.regulations.gov, docket number DOT-OST-2004-19482.

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