[Opinions] August 21, 2023, 10:30 am ET. By John McDermott.
Over the summer, two major developments in disability accessibility were announced by American carriers. In early June, Delta Air Lines announced that one of its subsidiaries is developing a seat that would allow passengers to stay in their power wheelchairs during a flight. At the end of July, United Airlines announced it would become the first U.S. airline to add braille to aircraft interiors, including to mark rows, seat numbers, and the inside and outside of lavatories.
Neither of these changes will be immediate. It will take at least 18 months for Delta’s seat to enter service assuming it passes testing on time, while United won’t be able to retrofit all of its aircraft until 2026. Still, these moves represent a major step forward for disabled passengers in the United States.
The United States Department of Transportation reported that 27 million passengers with disabilities traveled in 2019. The U.S. Government Accountability Office has reported that large airport spread, TSA screening passengers, and improper handling of accommodation by airlines pose significant challenges to travelers with disabilities. Notably for this article, US airlines together mishandled, lost, damaged, delayed, or lost 11,389 wheelchairs and scooters in 2022, or about 1.54 per 100 that were loaded onto aircraft, per the Washington Post, the highest number since the Department of Transportation first reported the data in 2018.
Federal Accessibility Legislation
Deltas and American’s moves come amid a greater push for aviation accessibility in the United States government. In spring 2023, Senators Tammy Duckworth and John Thune announced the Mobility Aids on Board Improve Lives and Empower All Act, otherwise known as the MOBILE Act, which would require the Department of Transportation to publicly report the type of damage that occurs to wheelchairs and mobility aids. It would also require airlines to provide sufficient…