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14 November 2018
Review of service animal requirements
Civil penalties relating to harm of passengers with disabilities
Airline passengers with disabilities bill of rights
Improving wheelchair assistance for individuals with disabilities
Transparency for disabled passengers
Regulations ensuring assistance for passengers with disabilities in air transport
Review of practices for ticketing, pre-flight seat assignments and stowing of assistive devices
On 5 October 2018 President Trump signed into law the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorisation Act of 2018. The act, which has wide-ranging implications for the aviation industry, will fund the FAA for the next five years. The legislation affects, among other issues, aviation-related consumer protection, labour law, airline fees(1) and disability accommodations in air travel. This article focuses on the provisions in the act that affect airlines' obligations to accommodate passengers with disabilities.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) must conduct a rulemaking to:
The DOT must issue a final rule by March 2020.
Airlines will have an opportunity to comment on the DOT's proposed rule. Airlines have urged the DOT to tighten its regulations in order to prevent passengers from falsely claiming that a pet is a service or an emotional support animal.
The DOT may increase the maximum penalty that an airline must pay for bodily harm or damage to a passenger's wheelchair or other mobility aid by 300% of what is currently provided for under the law (each act of harm or injury constitutes a separate offence).
Airlines will face up to three times the maximum penalty of $32,140 for each incident of bodily injury or damage to a passenger's wheelchair or other mobility aid, in addition to the current requirement that airlines reimburse the passenger for the full purchase price for each damaged mobility aid.
The DOT must develop an airline passengers with disabilities bill of rights, which explains the protections afforded to passengers with disabilities in air travel. The requirement is not intended to expand or to restrict the rights already applicable to individuals travelling with a disability. The bill of rights document will be displayed on airlines' websites and be provided to any passengers who request disability-related assistance.
The DOT must consult with stakeholders regarding the document's content (except for certain minimum content mandated by Congress) before it is published. Airlines will then be required to submit a personnel training plan to the DOT to ensure that airline employee training programmes will cover the protections guaranteed in the document. The legislation does not contain a deadline for the finalisation or implementation of the bill of rights.
The DOT must consider and, if necessary, make recommendations to improve:
Airlines and their contractors are already bound by DOT-mandated training requirements. Any change to existing training regulations would require the DOT to initiate a rulemaking to amend the existing requirements.
Within 60 days, the DOT must enforce a 2016 rule that requires airlines to report data for mishandled baggage and wheelchairs.
Airlines must report the number of mishandled bags and the number of enplaned bags. The rule, if enforced, also requires separate statistics for mishandled wheelchairs and scooters that are transported in the aircraft cargo compartments.
The DOT must review and, if necessary, revise regulations which govern the assistance of passengers travelling with disabilities and any associated airline employee training.
As noted above, the DOT already regulates the airlines' assistance of passengers travelling with disabilities and associated training requirements. Airlines will have an opportunity to comment on any DOT proposal to revise its existing regulations.
A new Advisory Committee on the Air Travel Needs of Passengers with Disabilities will review the current DOT regulations relating to ticketing, pre-flight seat assignments and stowing assistive devices for passengers with disabilities. The advisory committee must provide the DOT with recommendations, if any, as to how existing disability consumer protection regulations should be modified.
The DOT secretary will appoint one airline industry stakeholder to the advisory committee. The committee will include eight members.
For further information on this topic please contact David Heffernan or Robert Foster at Cozen O'Connor by telephone (+1 202 912 4800) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com). The Cozen O'Connor's website can be accessed at www.cozen.com.
(1) For further details please "New airline fees".
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