March 23, 2023

Duckworth Chairs Commerce Committee Hearing on Increasing Consumer Protections and Safety in Air Travel, Advocates for More Accessibility for the Disability Community


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] — U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation (CST) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations and Innovation—the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)—chaired today’s full committee hearing that sought to find ways to enhance consumer protections during air travel. During her remarks, the Senator focused on ways to improve public safety during air travel by advocating for her Emergency Vacating of Aircraft Cabin (EVAC) Act and urging strong action to make air travel more accessible for people with disabilities, like passing her bipartisan Prioritizing Accountability and Accessibility for Aviation Consumers Act. She shared personal experiences about the impact of airlines breaking her wheelchair, which happened as recently as last weekend. Video of the Senator’s remarks during the hearing can be found here and here.

When discussing ways to improve public safety, the Senator said: “Our focus is on consumer protection issues, but I want to take a moment to raise a critical safety issue that at its core is about protecting every passenger that flies commercial. FAA regulations require that, in the event of an emergency, passengers can evacuate an aircraft in 90 seconds; however, FAA evacuation simulations fail to include real-life conditions common on commercial flights, such as a full plane, the presence of carry-on bags or passengers who are children, senior citizens or persons with disabilities. Senator Baldwin and I introduced the Emergency Vacating of Aircraft Cabin (EVAC) Act to require realistic testing.”

Duckworth advocated for Congressional action to increase accessibility and improve treatment of passengers with disabilities when they embark on air travel, such as providing information on the size of cargo holds, relevant to safe stowage of mobility aids, and making airports more accessible: “I must express the disability community’s deep frustration that our aviation system still fails to make sure every passenger with a disability is treated with dignity and respect. We’ve had half a century to make flying accessible for the millions of Americans with disabilities who travel by air each year. Yet, flying with a disability remains riddled with unnecessary issues that at best, are frustrating and cost time and money – and at worst, are demeaning and inflict harm on customers. Too many air carriers have demonstrated that drastically reducing the rate of broken wheelchairs is simply not a corporate priority, and after years of failure, it’s time for Congress to act.”

Duckworth has long advocated that Americans with disabilities should receive the dignity and respect they deserve while traveling. As a result of legislation that was written by Duckworth, the Department of Transportation implemented a new rule requiring air carriers to disclose for the first time how many checked bags, wheelchairs and motorized scooters they damage or mishandle each month. Late last year, Duckworth introduced the Emergency Vacating of Aircraft Cabin (EVAC) Act to ensure the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does more to prioritize passenger safety by appropriately considering real-life conditions like full flights, the presence of carry-on baggage and passengers who may be children, seniors or persons with disabilities in its emergency evacuation standards.

During a recent hearing, Duckworth called out Southwest Airlines for the company’s lack of transparency, the unacceptable wait times that people with disabilities and millions of other customers were forced to experience and its refusal to heed warnings that could have helped prevent this meltdown before it ever happened. Additionally, Duckworth criticized Southwest Airlines’ lack of accessibility for people with disabilities and secured commitment from Airlines for America that it will support her effort to require the Department of Transportation to audit air carrier website accessibility. Following that hearing, Duckworth introduced bipartisan legislation—the Prioritizing Accountability and Accessibility for Aviation Consumers Act—that would improve transparency surrounding the increasing disability-related complaints with air travel.