Air Travel for Individuals with Disabilities

 December 3, 2015
Posted by M&LAdmin4

December 3rd, 2016

Hello everyone, and welcome back to the blog this week! We hope that you all had a happy and a healthy Thanksgiving break. We almost can’t believe how fast this year has been going – it is amazing that we are a couple of short weeks away from the holiday season!

In fact, considering that the holiday season is fast approaching, we would like to take this opportunity to share with you an interesting email that we recently received. The email (circulated by the Arc of Montgomery County, a wonderful advocacy organization operating out of Maryland) focused on helping individuals with disabilities with their holiday travel concerns. Specifically, the email contained a document released by the US Department of Transportation, called Guide: Air Travelers with Developmental Disabilities.

This document focuses on federal guidelines and regulations surrounding travelers with disabilities, and the rules and regulations that commercial airlines have to abide by when their passengers have disabilities. For those of you who may not be aware, these regulations were first established in 1986 by the Air Carriers Access Act (ACAA), which was created to protect individuals with physical and mental disabilities from discrimination by commercial airlines. This law was amended in 1990, when the Department of Transportation issued a rule “defining the rights of passengers and the obligations of air carriers under this law.”

Please join us as we take a quick look at the ACAA, and provide a brief explanation of the responsibilities of the airlines as well as the responsibilities of the passenger with disability when travelling via aircraft.


As mentioned, the ACAA is federal legislation that protects individuals with disabilities against discrimination by commercial airlines. It also lays out the responsibilities of both the airlines and the passengers with disabilities when an individual with disabilities is travelling via aircraft.

If you would like to read the ACAA in full, please click here. For the purposes of this blog, however, please see below for brief summary of the obligations of the airlines in regards to individuals with disability when travelling on commercial airlines (as taken from

Obligations of the airlines

  • Carriers may not refuse transportation to people on the basis of disability. Airlines may exclude anyone from a flight if carrying the person would be inimical to the safety of the flight. If a carrier excludes a handicapped person on safety grounds, the carrier must provide the person a written explanation of the decision.
  • Airlines may not require advance notice that a person with a disability is traveling. Carriers may require up to 48 hours’ advance notice for certain accommodations that require preparation time (e.g., respirator hook-up, transportation of an electric wheelchair on an aircraft with less than 60 seats).
  • Carriers may not limit the number of handicapped persons on a flight.
  • Carriers may not require a person with a disability to travel with an attendant, except in certain limited circumstances specified in the rule. If the person with the disability and the carrier disagree about the need for an attendant, the airline can require the attendant, but cannot charge for the transportation of the attendant.
  • Airlines are required to provide assis­tance with boarding, deplaning and making connections. Assistance within the cabin is also required, but not extensive personal services. Where level-entry boarding is not available, there must be ramps or mechanical lifts to service most aircraft with 19 or more seats at U.S. airports with over 10,000 annual enplanements.
  • Wheelchairs and other assistive devices have priority over other items for storage in the baggage compartment.
  • Airlines must accept and allow medical devices that are necessary to the safe and comfortable travel of individuals with disability, including battery powered wheelchairs, breathing apparatuses, etc. on airplanes.
  • Airlines may not charge for providing accommodations required by the rule, such as hazardous materials packaging for batteries. However, they may charge for optional services such as providing oxygen.

Guide: Air Travelers with Developmental Disabilities

The guide that was released by the Dept. Transportation (and circulated by Arc Montgomery County) is, as the title portrays, a comprehensive guide to air travel for individuals with disabilities. Not only does is summarize and explain the rights and obligations of airlines in regards to passengers with disabilities, it also provides travel tips for individuals with disabilities, as well as information for airline employees and other passengers when trying to assist or aide other passengers with disabilities.

If you would like to read the guide in full, please click here. For a quick summary of the most important points, please see the below bullets:

  • The ACAA protects passengers with disability from discrimination by commercial airlines. Individuals with disability are any individuals that have a physical or mental impairment that, on a permanent or temporary basis, substantially limits one or more major life activities. Individuals on the autism spectrum or other developmental disabilities are individuals with disabilities under ACAA.
  • Although passengers are not required to notify airlines of their needs ahead of time, it may be of benefit to the passenger to do so. Tell the airline what you need in terms of accommodations, assistance, etc. Be specific and clear about what the passenger needs to avoid unnecessary concerns about the passenger traveling safely.
  • Familiarize yourself or the passenger with the airport environment. Some airports offer “dry runs” for individuals with disabilities to become used to the environment before the actual travelling takes place. Investigate and participate if necessary.
  • Make sure you have the proper documentation to complete the flight. (i.e. documentation is needed if traveling with a service animal, for example).
  • If you feel that you are having trouble receiving disability accommodations, ask to speak with a Complaints Resolution Official (CRO), the airlines expert on disability accommodation issues. Airlines are required to make one available to individuals with disability, at no cost, in person at the airport or by telephone during the times they are operating.

Would You Like More Information? 

Thank you very much for taking the time to visit our blog today – we hope that we have been able to share some new information with you regarding air travel for individuals with disabilities.

If you have any questions on this topic, or any topic related to life/financial planning for individuals with disabilities and their families, please contact us! We are experts that have extensive personal and professional experience with issues relating to special needs planning, and we would love to learn about your family. If you would like to know about the specific services that M&L provides, please have a look at our Services page, as well as our Workshop page.

Have a great Thursday, and don’t forget to stop back again next week!




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