Let us tell you a story. Matthew, a wheelchair user, has dreamed of going to Spain ever since he could remember. As an early 21st birthday gift to himself he finally buys a plane ticket and books a hotel right in the heart of Barcelona. On departure day, he is among the first to board, staff members help him move from his wheelchair to the aisle chair, a rolling chair specifically designed to help wheelchair users to their plane seats. They take his wheelchair assuring him that it will be there waiting for him when they get to Spain. He spends the ride catching up on some school work, watching movies with no worries about reconnecting with his chair.
The plane ride goes smoothly. Once the plane reaches the gate, passengers make their exit. A flight attendant assures Mattew that his wheelchair is waiting for him just outside the gate. Feeling confident, Matthew moves to the aisle chair and allows the flight attendant to wheel him toward the exit. However, when Matthew gets to the airport entrance, he feels a sudden dread. His chair is nowhere in sight. The flight attendant tells him that he’ll find his chair. He pats him on the shoulder and leaves Matthew alone in the aisle chair.
As other passengers rush past him to get their luggage, head off to their hotels to begin their vacations, Matthew is left stranded. He sits alone in his chair for two hours, envisioning a nightmare scenario where he spends his entire two week vacation in the airport. Finally, the staff member rolls his wheelchair to him without apology or explanation.
Why a Bill of Rights for Air Travelers with Disabilities is Needed
Unfortunately, stories like Matthew’s are not as rare as you might hope. All travelers depend on airline staff and crew for help and this help is absolutely crucial for travelers with disabilities. While laws and airlines regulations and rights for disabled people have existed for decades, unless you do some thorough research, it can be challenging to find what exactly the laws are, what they mean, and what you can do about it if these laws are ever broken.
All this changed in July of 2022, when the U.S. Department of Transportation published its first-ever Bill of Rights for Air Travelers with Disabilities. The list of rights gave travelers transparency, clarity, and most importantly, empowerment. Now, air travelers with disabilities know what their fundamental rights are and what to do if these rights are ever violated.
What are the DOT’s New Fundamental Rights of Air Travelers with Disabilities?
So, let’s get right to it. Below you’ll find the bill of rights. Each right is linked directly to the Department of Transportation’s explainer page, where you can find exactly what each right means and even read the original regulatory language.
- The Right to Be Treated with Dignity and Respect.
- The Right to Receive Information About Services and Aircraft Capabilities and Limitations.
- The Right to Receive Information in an Accessible Format.
- The Right to Accessible Airport Facilities.
- The Right to Assistance at the Airport.
- The Right to Assistance in the Aircraft.
- The Right to Travel with an Assistive Device or Service Animal.
- The Right to Receive Seating Accommodations.
- The Right to Accessible Aircraft Features.
- The Right to Resolution of a Disability-Related Issue.
So, Matt's total trip cost is $2100. But, remember, a portion of that ($200) is refundable and therefore you shouldn't count that as the amount you want insured. Once you subtract the refundable amounts from your trip expenses you'll get the total trip cost for your insurance. In Matt's case, his total for insurance purposes would be $1900.
What People with Disabilities Can Do if Their Air Travel Rights Are Violated
The last right in the bill is The Right to Resolution of a Disability-Related Issue. This means that if you feel that your rights as an air traveler with disabilities have been violated, this will provide you with everything you need to know about making a complaint. You can file a complaint with the airline directly or you can do so through the DOT. If the complaint has to do with the airport, you can file through the FAA or DOJ.
Passengers with disabilities with urgent questions about their rights should ask to speak with the airline’s CRO. Remember, all U.S. airlines must have a CRO on staff at each airport. Passengers can also reach out to the DOT Disability Hotline at 1-800-778-4838.
Trip Insurance Can Be an Essential Ally
If you’re a traveler with a disability, trip insurance can be especially helpful. Though no traveler likes to think about it, sometimes exciting adventures can hit a rough patch. This is where trip insurance can help. If your disability makes it difficult for you to move, emergency medical evacuation coverage can give you peace of mind. This service provides an airlift to the nearest medical facility, something that could cost you up to $100,000 dollars without insurance.
If you’re feeling suddenly apprehensive about your upcoming flight, Trip Insurance with a Cancel For Any Reason option allows you to, yep, cancel for any reason and still recoup certain prepaid nonrefundable expenses. Similarly if you decide to cut your trip short, an Interruption For Any Reason benefit can help.