Posted in disability civil rights

Disability Rights Extend to the Skies

In his book, “No Pity,” Joeseph P.Shapiro talks about a airline passenger who needed to board his plane. Because he was a quadriplegic, the flight crew decided to just place him on a baggage cart, along with the rest of the “luggage.” Mr. Shapiro also references an incident where a high-ranking federal employee was told that she could not fly without an attendant, because she had a disability.

Because of these and similar instances through the years, Congress passed the Air Carrier Access Act(ACAA)in 1986.

The ACAA is very similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It prohibits airlines from discriminating against people with disabilities. It also requires reasonable accommodation, as long as that does not create an undue hardship.

For example, I am able to request “wheelchair assistance” when I arrive at the airport for a flight. That means an employee will bring me a wheelchair and help me board the plane if I need it. Another employee will also meet me with a wheelchair when the plane lands, and will take me wherever I need to go (usually the baggage carousel).

Quite frankly, this is a godsend. I no longer have to worry about falling, becoming too tired to continue or holding up hordes of people when I go to the airport. And I can see that this is also easier for those around me. They don’t have to worry about whether they should try to help me or whether I will delay their flight (both legitimate concerns!).

Airlines still have the right to refuse to let me board if they reasonably believe I could be dangerous or unduly disruptive. And under certain limited circumstances, they can request documentation of my needs. But they cannot charge me extra, deny me certain seats or require that anyone accompany me (just like they can’t do to people who are not disabled).

I’ve only had one bad experience with his system: About a year ago, an employee asked if I could walk from the plane to the terminal, instead of her pushing me. I replied that I wouldn’t have requested a wheelchair if I thought I could safely do that on my own. Inexplicably, the conversation escalated to the point where she stopped pushing me, ignored my request to continue, and angrily demanded that I tell her what she had done wrong.

She was clearly anticipating that that I would complain to the airline, and was already constructing her “defense.” I just kept asking that she take me to their baggage carousel and told her I didn’t want to discuss it. When she ignored me, I vividly remember my feelings of abject helplessness.

Thankfully, another employee emerged and I asked that she become my substitute “pusher.” And (not surprisingly), I did complain to the airline and they responded very quickly and satisfactorily.

I learned a lot from that experience and I hope that the employee did, as well. No one said that accommodation would always be easy, but few things are more worth the effort.

GIn the meantime, Happy Holidays and Safe Travels!

See the link below for more information about the ACAA.


Nothing on this site is intended to be legal advice.

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