All Wheels Up Supports Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Proposed Rule to Increase Protections of Air Travelers Who Use Wheelchairs


                                              March 5, 2024

All Wheels Up Supports Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Proposed Rule to Increase Protections of Air Travelers Who Use Wheelchairs


The proposed rule, called Ensuring Safe Accommodations for Air Travelers with Disabilities Using Wheelchairs, would put more responsibility on airlines and airports for safely, properly, and respectfully assisting air travelers who use wheelchairs—as well as handling their wheelchairs

FRISCO, TX – After continued collaboration among All Wheels Up, the United States DOT, and other stakeholders, the DOT introduced a proposal Thursday that would significantly benefit commercial air passengers who travel with wheelchairs. The new rule would:

1.     Mandate annual, hands-on training for airline staff and contractors who physically assist passengers and who handle passengers’ wheelchairs. A passenger in a wheelchair cannot enter the plane in their own wheelchair due to the very narrow plane aisles. The passenger needs to be transferred (usually by two employees of the airport assistance service working together) into a narrow “aisle wheelchair” (provided by the airport) to enter the plane. Once aboard, the passenger again needs to be transferred from the aisle wheelchair to their seat. The baggage handlers move the passenger’s personal wheelchair to store it below the plane with the luggage.

2.     Allow a wheelchair traveler to choose the company that will repair or replace their wheelchair if it’s mishandled, with the airline covering the costs. Travelers do not currently have control over their wheelchair repair process. When a wheelchair is damaged during loading and unloading, the regulations do not specify how a person is compensated for damage. Damaged or destroyed wheelchairs, especially when a passenger is out of town, can leave users literally stranded. The new rule will permit DOT to “more easily penalize airlines and hold them accountable when a passenger’s mobility device is damaged.”

3.     Clarify that airlines must provide prompt, safe, and dignified assistance to all passengers with disabilities. This is not currently stated in legislation.

DOT notes that if airlines fall short of any of these standards or mishandle a passenger’s wheelchair, the proposal—if finalized—would make it easier for DOT to hold airlines accountable for failing passengers who use a wheelchair. Any violation would count as an automatic violation of the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) when a wheelchair is mishandled.

All Wheels Up was instrumental in the process of crafting and structuring the Ensuring Safe Accommodations for Air Travelers with Disabilities Using Wheelchairs proposal. For the past two months, Erwin and others from All Wheels Up spent several days on Capitol Hill detailing the hurdles of air travel for people with disabilities, devising solutions, and identifying partners for change. The rule will remain in the federal register for 60 days so that lawmakers and members of the public can submit formal comments on it. All Wheels Up calls for government and public support of this proposal and encourages individuals within the disability community to comment.

“While All Wheel’s Up’s ultimate goal is to ensure a future where travelers can fly while sitting in their own wheelchairs in dedicated wheelchair spots, these regulations would make flying a safer and more equitable experience for wheelchair users,” said Michele Erwin, the president and founder of All Wheels Up. “These steps also call attention to the difficulties travelers with disabilities, like my son, face when flying.”

While those without disabilities may assume that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees many of the protections outlined in this proposal, air travel instead falls under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) of 1986. The new regulation will build on and directly bolster the ACAA.

This step forward comes as All Wheels Up not only continues advocacy but conducts crash-test research with universities and organizations like the National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR). More studies will likely be published in the coming months. This year could see additional improvements for air travelers with disabilities with other proposed bills including the bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration.

All Wheels Up acknowledges and appreciates the bipartisan support it has received from lawmakers as well as from Secretary Buttigieg and the DOT.



About All Wheels Up

Established in 2011, All Wheels Up (AWU) is the first not-for-profit organization in the world to fund research and development for a “wheelchair spot” on commercial aircraft. The not-for-profit organization works with airline carriers, aircraft manufacturers, and lawmakers to make airplanes wheelchair accessible for the millions of people who depend on them for mobility and safe seating. AWU’s mission is to forge a future with safer and more dignified accessible air travel through research, advocacy, and community outreach.