March 09, 2021

Duckworth Joins Baldwin, Langevin in Introducing Legislation to Protect Rights of Airplane Passengers with Disabilities

Air Carrier Access Amendments Act would improve air travel safety and close service gaps that passengers with disabilities face in air travel


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) joined U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and U.S. Representative Jim Langevin (D-RI) in reintroducing the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act to protect the rights of airplane passengers with disabilities, improve air travel safety and close service gaps that passengers with disabilities frequently encounter in air travel.

“Far too many Americans living with a disability—many of whom are Veterans like myself—face unnecessary challenges during air travel,” said Senator Duckworth. “As someone who has experienced these challenges firsthand, I understand how lackluster accessibility can have a profound effect on disabled travelers. This legislation will go a long way to correct these issues and ensure disabled Americans receive the protections they deserve.”

“We need to break down the barriers that individuals with disabilities face when they travel,” said Senator Baldwin. “Equal access to air travel for individuals with disabilities is about fairness and freedom. This legislation will enhance the rights and safety of airline passengers with disabilities, including our veterans.”

“Although we have made progress in the last 35 years to address barriers in plane travel for people with disabilities, I know personally that challenges remain,” said Rep. Langevin, the first quadriplegic elected to Congress. “It’s past time we update the standard of air travel and make services more inclusive and responsive to individual needs. This critical legislation presents an opportunity to build upon the Air Carrier Access Act by improving accessibility, enhancing assistance, and ensuring greater civil rights protections.”

For 35 years, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) has prohibited discrimination based on disability in air travel. Despite this effort, too many travelers with disabilities encounter significant barriers—such as damaged assistive devices and wheelchairs, delayed assistance, ineffective communications, and lack of seating accommodations. In 2018, passengers filed 36,930 disability-related complaints with air carriers, which represents an 8 percent increase over 2017. The majority of these complaints were related to failure to provide assistance and seating accommodation.

Along with Duckworth and Baldwin, the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act is cosponsored in the Senate by U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH). The House companion legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Representatives Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Dina Titus (D-NV).

The Air Carrier Access Amendments Act will:

  • Strengthen ACAA enforcement by requiring DOT to levy civil penalties for violations and refer complaints to the Department of Justice for possible further enforcement and establishing of a private right of action.
  • Ensure new airplanes are designed to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities by requiring airlines to meet defined accessibility standards. These standards will address safe and effective boarding and deplaning, visually accessible announcements, seating accommodations, lavatories, and better stowage options for assistive devices.
  • Require removal of access barriers on existing airplanes to the extent that it is readily achievable, easily accomplishable, and may be done without much difficulty or expense.
  • Improve the overall safety of air travel for passengers with disabilities.

The Air Carrier Access Amendments Act is supported by Paralyzed Veterans of America, ALS Association, Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago, American Association of People with Disabilities, American Council of the Blind, The Arc of the United States, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, Cure SMA, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, Easterseals, Epilepsy Foundation, Muscular Dystrophy Association, National Association of the Deaf, National Council on Independent Living, National Disability Rights Network, National Federation of the Blind, National Multiple Sclerosis Society and United Spinal Association, AMVETS, Blinded Veterans Association, The American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America, VetsFirst and Wounded Warrior Project.

A summary of the legislation is available here. Text of the Senate legislation is available here.