February 14, 2023

New Bipartisan Duckworth-Fischer Bill Introduced to Help Travelers with Disabilities


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] — As far too many passengers with disabilities continue to experience unnecessary obstacles and challenges when flying, today U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Deb Fischer (R-NE) introduced bipartisan legislation that would improve transparency surrounding the increasing disability-related complaints with air travel. The Prioritizing Accountability and Accessibility for Aviation Consumers Act of 2023 would ensure the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) publishes an annual report disclosing all disability-related complaints made throughout the year, including specifics about how these complaints were resolved. Both Duckworth and Fischer are members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation (CST). Duckworth is Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations and Innovation.

“For too long, carriers have gotten away with predatory practices that view passengers with disabilities as disposable,” Duckworth said. “As Chair of Aviation Safety Subcommittee, I’m committed to helping ensure air travel is as safe and convenient as possible for every traveler—including Americans with disabilities. By preventing disability-related complaints from being swept under the rug, our bipartisan bill would shine a light on these problems and help ensure that the millions of passengers with disabilities who fly every year are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

“Nebraskans deserve greater clarity into the FAA’s disability complaint process,” said Fischer. “By ensuring the FAA’s annual report includes a breakdown of disability customer complaints, this legislation will help hold airlines accountable and ensure that every American is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

From untrained staff at the ticket counter to lost or damaged wheelchairs, passenger injuries and more, disability-related complaints during air travel are on the rise. According to a 2022 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, the DOT received 1,394 disability-related complaints in 2021—which is a more than 157 percent increase from the number of complaints received in 2020.

A copy of the bill one-pager can be found here.

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 passed 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 seat size, carry-on baggage, people with disabilities, seniors and children in its emergency evacuation standards. 

Last week, 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.