Proposed DOT Rule Would Penalize Airlines for Mishandling Wheelchairs

The agency is now accepting comments on the proposal

Airport wheelchairs
The Department of Transportation is proposing improvements for travelers using wheelchairs.
Deccio Serrano/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Last summer, the Department of Transportation implemented a new rule that will make airplane bathrooms accessible to passengers using wheelchairs. Turns out that isn’t the only thing the DOT had in the cards for making air travel better for the substantial number of travelers who use wheelchairs. The agency’s own statistics show that last year, airlines mishandled 11,527 wheelchairs and scooters. That’s something that’s troubling in the short term and can adversely affect people’s lives long after reaching their destination.

The announcement, made by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, focuses on a proposed rule with three components. The first would penalize airlines for damaging travelers’ wheelchairs or scooters, including providing loaners and an option to repair or replace damaged devices.

This proposed rule would also require airlines to provide additional training to staff — both in terms of handling wheelchairs and “physically [assisting] passengers with mobility disabilities.” The DOT rule also has a component regarding airplane bathrooms and what airlines can charge in situations where a wheelchair does not fit onboard a plane.

As David Slotnik at The Points Guy pointed out, these rules are now at the public comment stage — and are part of an industry-wide effort to improve airlines’ handling of mobility devices.

All the Ways Planes Will Become More Accessible…in the Next 12 Years
Braille signage and accessible lavatories are coming to an aircraft near you (eventually)

In announcing the proposed rule, Secretary Buttigieg spoke of the importance of ensuring that “travelers using wheelchairs can travel safely and with dignity.”

“There are millions of Americans with disabilities who do not travel by plane because of inadequate airline practices and inadequate government regulation, but now we are setting out to change that,” he said.


Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.