On November 4, 2013, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) published a rule allowing airlines on new aircraft to choose between stowing wheelchairs in a cabin compartment or strapping them to a row of seats. Airlines are still required to stow a collapsible chair in the cabin, but now can choose to strap a chair to seats rather than a dedicated compartment even on new planes.
DOT has allowed airlines to use the seat-strapping method on existing aircraft for ten years. Based on an evaluation of the costs and benefits, DOT revised its position to allow the use of seat-strapping on new aircraft subject to certain conditions.
If an airline chooses to use the seat-strapping method, strap kits must comply with applicable safety standards. The carrier must reserve space for the first manual wheelchair or be prepared to displace passengers if necessary to transport that wheelchair. Further, it must transport two wheelchairs in the cabin, if requested, unless stowing the second wheelchair would displace other passengers.
On aircraft where an airline stows a passenger’s wheelchair in a closet in the cabin, there must be a prominent sign indicating that a wheelchair and other assistive devices have priority over other items brought into the cabin by other passengers or crew, thereby making it clear that a manual wheelchair and other assistive devices should be transported in the cabin.
This rule becomes effective on January 13, 2014. It can be viewed at this link.
The DOT also issued a regulation requiring accessibility of airline websites and kiosks. Most changes are centered on accessibility to people with vision impairments, e.g., kiosks will be visually and tactilely identifiable. But airlines will also have to ensure that, within three years (12/13/16), 25% of kiosks meet the Americans with Disabilities Act's (ADA) height, reach and maneuverability standards. They must make available online accommodation request forms to request services including, but not limited to, wheelchair assistance at the airport, and ticket agents must offer to persons with disabilities web-based discount fares if they are unable to use their website due to a disability. Airlines must give priority access to accessible kiosks to passengers with disabilities.
Learn more about the Air Carrier Access Act
Read more about Paralyzed Veterans of America's work on Capitol Hill