Seat Assignment Criteria
Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), airlines are required to provide certain seating accommodations to passengers with disabilities who self-identify as needing to sit in a certain seat. If you are a passenger with one of the disability-related needs listed below and self-identify as such to the airline, you may qualify for one of the following types of seating accommodations:
- Movable Aisle Armrest: If you use an aisle chair to access the aircraft, and cannot transfer readily over a fixed aisle armrest.
- Bulkhead Seat or Other Seat: If you are traveling with a service animal, that is best accommodated at a particular seat.
- Greater Leg Room: If you have a fused or immobilized leg and need a seat that better accommodates your disability, including an aisle seat or a bulkhead seat.
- An Adjoining Seat: If you are traveling with a person who is assisting you during the flight such as:
- A personal care attendant who performs a function that is not required to be performed by airline personnel, for example assisting you with eating;
- A reader if you are blind or visually impaired;
- An interpreter if you are deaf or hard of hearing; or
- A safety assistant, for example if you cannot assist with your own evacuation.
Note: If the conditions above do not apply to your situation, the airline is still required to provide you with a seat assignment that best accommodates your disability. This may include one of the seating accommodations listed under “Seat Assignment Criteria” above. However, if you do not meet the airline’s seating assignment criteria (ex. you did not check-in on time), the airline must only provide the seating accommodation to the extent practicable.
Things to Know
Do most airlines provide advance seat assignments for passengers with disabilities?
- Yes. Depending on the type of seating method your airline uses and your particular disability-related need, you may be required to ask for a specific type of seating accommodation more than 24 hours in advance or to check in one hour before the standard check-in time for the flight.
Do all airlines provide advance seat assignments?
- No. Some airlines do not provide advance seat assignments.
- If your airline does not provide an advance seat assignment, you can request to board the aircraft before other passengers if you need additional time or assistance to board, stow accessibility equipment, or select a seat that best meets your needs.
Should I contact the airline in advance if I need to sit in a particular seat due to my disability?
- Yes. If you have a disability and would prefer or need a certain type of seating accommodation, you should contact the airline at the time you make your reservation to learn more about the method that the airline uses to make arrangements for a seating accommodation.
If I have a temporary disability (ex. broken leg), can I still receive a seating accommodation?
- Yes. If you have a fused or immobilized leg, airlines are required to provide you with a seating accommodation that accommodates your need for more leg room.
Must an airline provide me with a seat in a different class of service to accommodate my disability?
- No. Although airlines may choose to seat you in another class of service to accommodate your disability, they are not required to provide you a seat in a class of service other than the one you paid to sit in. For example, if you paid for a seat in Economy Class, the airline is not required to seat you in Business Class to accommodate your disability.
Must an airline provide an extra seat free of charge for a passenger with a disability who needs that space?
- No. Airlines are not required to furnish more than one seat per ticket purchased. However, if you need an extra seat, you can purchase one.
Can an airline require you to change your assigned seat or sit in a bulkhead seat because you are traveling with a service animal?
- Generally, no. But an airline may do so to comply with FAA or applicable foreign government safety regulations. For example, you may be asked to change seats if you are traveling with a service animal that blocks access to the emergency exit.
Can I sit in an exit row?
- Airlines must always comply with FAA and foreign government safety rules. Although there are exit row seating restrictions that may, they don’t always prohibit certain passengers with disabilities from sitting in an exit row seat.
Seating Accommodation Tips
Before Your Trip
- You should make reservations as early as possible and request the needed seating accommodation.
- You should know that individuals with a service animal or a fused leg have priority for the bulkhead seats. Airlines that provide advance seat assignments to passengers must either (1) block an adequate number of bulkhead seats for passengers traveling with a service animal or who have a fused leg; or (2) designate an adequate number of bulkhead seats as “priority” seats for such passengers.
- Be aware that while an airline is not required to allow you to select a specific seat, it is required to provide you a seat that meets your needs (with certain limitations for bulkhead seats and emergency-exit seats).
- You should know that airlines are not required to upgrade you to a higher class of service to accommodate your disability. Airlines are also not required to provide more than one seat per ticket.
At the airport
- When you arrive at the airport and check in at the ticket counter, confirm with the airline that it has a record of your seating accommodation request.
- If you need additional time or assistance to board the aircraft, consider requesting to pre-board. Airlines must allow passengers with disabilities the opportunity to pre-board who self-identify at the gate as requiring additional time or assistance to be seated or stow accessibility equipment. A passenger must make a request to the gate agent to take advantage of this opportunity.
On the aircraft
- You are entitled to a bulkhead seat if you are traveling with a service animal or have a fused or immobilized leg. Airlines are also required to provide other available bulkhead seats to passengers with other types of disabilities if they need it to readily access the air transportation service.
- If you have given advance notice to the airline about the seating accommodation you need and have received a seat assignment, and there is an aircraft change, your request for accommodation should be transferred to the new seating map for the replacement airplane. While the airline may not guarantee that you receive the exact same seat assignment, the new seat assignment should provide the same level of accommodation that your original seat assignment does.
Encounter A Problem?
- If you believe your rights under the Air Carrier Access Act are being or have been violated, ask to speak with a Complaints Resolution Official (CRO). A CRO is the airline’s expert on disability accommodation issues. Airlines are required to make one available to you, at no cost, in person at the airport or by telephone during the times they are operating.