Paralyzed Veterans Score Victory In Wheelchair Case

After Legal and Public Pressure, and Congressional Action, Government Agrees to Implement Much Needed Protections for Disabled Air Travelers

Airlines Required to be in Compliance for Flights Beginning December 4, 2018

Contact: Charisma Troiano, ctroiano@democracyforward.org, (202) 701-1781

Liz Deakin, lizd@pva.org, 202-416-7627

Washington, D.C. — Following a lawsuit brought by Democracy Forward on behalf of Paralyzed Veterans of America, and subsequent Congressional action in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has now reversed course and agreed to stop delaying a rule intended to make air travel safer and easier for passengers with disabilities.

In a letter to the court filed late yesterday, DOT announced that it expects industry to comply with the rule’s requirement to report data on lost and damaged wheelchairs and scooters. For flights beginning December 4, 2018, “[DOT's] Enforcement Office will expect the airline[s] to accurately report the total number of mishandled wheelchairs and scooters and total number of wheelchair and scooters enplaned.”

The rule, which was years in the making and has been the focus of activism by disability rights advocates, was delayed by DOT in March 2017 in response to requests by airline lobbyists. This rule provides valuable information, not previously available, to travelers with disabilities about an airline’s record of handling mobility devices. That information will enable travelers with disabilities to make more informed choices about which airlines to patronize.

DOT’s 2017 decision to delay implementation of the rule was made unlawfully, without providing notice or an opportunity for the public to comment on the delay, a clear violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. Rather than follow lawful procedure, DOT simply asserted the delay was necessary due to unspecified implementation “challenges,” citing a single email the agency received from an airline lobbyist.

“We applaud the DOT for finally implementing the new rule,” said Carl Blake, executive director of Paralyzed Veterans of America. “This rule is an important move in our long standing effort to make air travel safer and more convenient for all people with disabilities.”

“We are pleased that after legal challenge and congressional action the Department of Transportation appears to be giving up on its unlawful delay of the wheelchair rule, a delay which disadvantaged travelers with disabilities at the behest of the airline industry,” said Democracy Forward Counsel Karianne Jones. “We will continue to closely monitor the rule’s implementation to guard against future violations of the law.”

The original case was filed in July of 2017. In September of this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard oral argument in the case. On Tuesday, October 23, 2018, DOT made the enforcement notice available on its website.