DOT proposes sweeping guidelines for the way airways deal with wheelchairs

The U.S. Division of Transportation (DOT) proposed new guidelines Thursday surrounding how airways transport wheelchairs and accommodate passengers who depend on them.

The proposed guidelines, which the DOT characterised as “the most important growth of rights for airline passengers who use wheelchairs since 2008,” would sharply penalize airways for mishandling passengers’ wheelchairs whereas imposing new coaching and working requirements for carriers.

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“The fundamental promise of transportation is the concept that everybody ought to be capable of journey safely and freely to the locations that they should be,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg mentioned on Wednesday throughout a convention name with media forward of the announcement. “If an individual will not be in a position to journey, just because another person decides that it is too onerous to accommodate them, the world shrinks.”

“Regardless of actual progress, transportation continues to be inaccessible for a lot too many individuals,” Buttigieg added.

The proposed rule would think about any mishandling of a wheelchair by an airline as a violation of the Air Service Entry Act, which prohibits airways from discriminating towards passengers due to a incapacity. Buttigieg mentioned the violation would entail a wonderful doubtlessly over $120,000 per incident.

Together with requiring airways to restore or exchange broken wheelchairs and supply satisfactory loaners throughout delays — enhancing current laws — the brand new rule would mandate new annual coaching for airline workers and contractors who usually help passengers or deal with wheelchairs.

Whereas most wheelchairs arrive at their vacation spot safely — in 2022, the final full yr for which information can be found, 741,582 wheelchairs had been carried by the ten greatest airways, whereas 11,389, or 1.5 %, had been broken, misplaced or considerably delayed — any mishandling can have extreme penalties for passengers, notably those that use custom-made or extra superior wheelchairs.

In late 2021, Engracia Figueroa, 51, a incapacity advocate, died a number of months after a United Airways flight on which airline staff unintentionally broken her $30,000 customized wheelchair. Whereas sitting in a loaner wheelchair on the airport — a damaged handbook wheelchair — she allegedly developed a stress sore, which her household argues led to problems that finally resulted in her hospitalization and loss of life.

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United has since added a number of new options geared toward enhancing the journey expertise for wheelchair customers, and the DOT has proposed a number of guidelines surrounding wheelchair lodging.

Nonetheless, it stays an ongoing drawback. Whereas information for 2023 are nonetheless being compiled, greater than 11,000 wheelchairs had been mishandled within the yr, based on a senior Biden administration official.

The proposed new rule is open for public remark for 60 days, and could possibly be revised primarily based on suggestions earlier than being submitted for extra remark. There isn’t a set timeline for the ultimate rule’s implementation, and lots of proposed guidelines are by no means absolutely adopted, which means that the brand new guidelines surrounding wheelchair transport could not truly come to fruition.

Buttigieg, nevertheless, mentioned that he respects the rulemaking course of however is keen to see motion taken on this proposal — and urged that he is optimistic.

“Enter in the course of the remark interval shall be essential to getting this proposed rule proper, and getting it over the end line,” Buttigieg mentioned. “It is an essential a part of how we modify the way in which that airways function and alter the way in which that vacationers with disabilities can transfer across the nation and around the globe.”

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