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Secretary Buttigieg Announces Proposed Rule to Ensure Passengers Who Use Wheelchairs Can Fly with Dignity

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Proposed rule would be the biggest expansion of rights for passengers who use wheelchairs since 2008 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg today announced a new proposed rule from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) that would ensure airline passengers who use wheelchairs can travel safely and with dignity. 

The proposed rule would require that airlines meet rigorous standards for accommodating passengers with disabilities safely and with dignity.  The proposal will set new standards for prompt, safe, and dignified assistance, mandate enhanced training for airline employees and contractors who physically assist passengers with disabilities and handle passengers’ wheelchairs and specify actions that airlines must take to protect passengers when a wheelchair is damaged during transport. Notably, the proposed rule also would make it easier for DOT to hold airlines accountable when they damage or delay the return of a wheelchair by making it an automatic violation of the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) to mishandle wheelchairs. 

Later this morning, Secretary Buttigieg will be joined by Assistant to the President and White House Office of Public Engagement Director Stephen Benjamin, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, advocates for people with disabilities, aviation workers, and other stakeholders for a fireside chat and town hall at the White House about the proposed rule, which would represent the largest expansion of rights for airline passengers who use wheelchairs since 2008.  This event will be livestreamed by the White House at this link

“There are millions of Americans with disabilities who do not travel by plane because of inadequate airline practices and inadequate government regulation, but now we are setting out to change that,” said Secretary Buttigieg. “This new rule would change the way airlines operate to ensure that travelers using wheelchairs can travel safely and with dignity.” 

An estimated 5.5 million Americans use a wheelchair, and many encounter barriers when it comes to air travel. In 2023, 11,527 wheelchairs and scooters were mishandled by carriers required to report this data to DOT. 

The proposed rule would take major actions in three key areas: 

1. Penalties and remedies for wheelchair mishandling 

  • (a) Mishandling wheelchairs as automatic violations of the ACAA: Proposes to make an airline’s mishandling of assistive devices, like wheelchairs, an automatic violation of the Air Carrier Access Act, allowing DOT to more easily penalize airlines and hold them accountable when a passenger’s mobility device is damaged. 
    • The proposed rule defines “mishandled” as being lost, delayed, damaged, or stolen. 
    • It also proposes to require airlines to immediately notify affected passengers of their right to file a claim with the airline, receive a loner wheelchair from the airline, choose a preferred vendor for device repairs or replacements, and have a Complaints Resolution Officer available. 
  • (b) Prompt repair or replacement of damaged wheelchairs: Proposes to require passengers be provided two options to repair or replace their wheelchairs if mishandled by airline: 
    • Carrier handles the repair or replacement of the wheelchair with an equivalent or greater function and safety within a reasonable timeframe and pays the associated cost; or 
    • Passenger arranges the repair or replacement of the wheelchair with an equivalent or greater function and safety through their preferred vendor and the airline pays the associated costs. 
  • (c) Loaner wheelchair accommodations: Proposes to require airlines to provide loaner wheelchairs while individuals with disabilities are waiting on repairs or replacement of a mishandled wheelchair and proposes to require airlines to consult with the passenger receiving the loaner to ensure it fits their needs as much as possible. 

2. Safe, dignified, and prompt assistance 

  • (a) Enhanced airline employee training: Proposes annual training, including hands-on training, of airline employees and contractors who physically assist passengers with mobility disabilities or handle passengers’ wheelchairs. 
  • (b) Prompt return of delayed wheelchair: Proposes to require airlines to transport a delayed wheelchair to the passenger’s final destination within 24 hours of the passenger’s arrival by whatever means possible. 
  • (c) Safe and dignified assistance: Proposes to require that all assistance from airlines provided to individuals with disabilities be safe and dignified. Disability rights advocates have reported to the Department that airlines frequently provide unsafe and undignified assistance that results in physical injuries and emotional distress to passengers with disabilities. 
  • (d) Prompt assistance: Proposes to require airlines to provide prompt assistance to passengers with disabilities when enplaning, deplaning, or moving through the airport terminal. The proposal defines prompt assistance for a person who uses a boarding chair to disembark an aircraft to mean:  
    • Personnel and boarding wheelchair are available to deplane the passenger when the last passenger not requesting assistance deplanes the aircraft; and 
    • The passenger’s personal wheelchair is available as close as possible to the door of the aircraft to the maximum extent possible, if requested. 

3. Improved standards on planes 

  • (a) Improved standards for on-board wheelchairs: Proposes new improved performance standards for on-board wheelchairs on twin-aisle aircraft and small aircraft, consistent with existing standards for single aisle aircraft with 125 or more seats. 
  • (b) Notifications after loading and unloading: Proposes to require airlines to timely notify passengers when their wheelchairs have been loaded and unloaded from the cargo compartment of their flights and to immediately notify passengers upon learning that the passenger’s wheelchair does not fit on the plane. 

The proposed rule also seeks comments on two additional issues: 

  • (a) Size standards for lavatories on twin-aisle aircraft: The proposal seeks comments regarding whether to specify that a lavatory on twin-aisle aircraft needs to be of sufficient size to permit both a passenger with a disability and an attendant to enter and maneuver within it. 
  • (b) Reimbursement of airfare difference: The proposal seeks comments regarding whether U.S. and foreign air carriers should be required to reimburse the difference between the fare on a flight a wheelchair user took and the fare on a flight that the wheelchair user would have taken if their wheelchair had been able to fit in the aircraft. 

Secretary Buttigieg has made improving air travel for people with disabilities a priority. In July 2023, DOT finalized a rule to require airline lavatories to be accessible to people with disabilities. The Department also established the first Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights to help educate passengers with disabilities about their rights when they travel. DOT has also begun preliminary groundwork for a possible future rule that would address passengers staying in their own wheelchairs when they fly. 

The Department encourages members of the public and interested parties to submit comments on the proposed rule. Comments must be received within 60 days of the date the notice being published in the Federal Register. The proposal can be found at   

Travelers can learn more about their protections when they fly at Consumers may file an airline complaint with the Department here