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US Proposes to Strengthen Rules for Wheelchair Passengers – February 29, 2024 at 11:00 am

US Proposes to Strengthen Rules for Wheelchair Passengers – February 29, 2024 at 11:00 am

The US Department of Transportation (USDOT) is proposing new rules Thursday to improve safety for airline passengers who use wheelchairs.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the proposed regulations are the largest expansion of rights for wheelchair users since 2008 and would make it easier for USDOT to hold the USDOT accountable for damage to wheelchairs or delays in return.

“There are millions of Americans with disabilities who are unable to travel by air due to ineffective airline procedures and inadequate government regulations,” Buttigieg said.

“We don't have the economic incentives to force airlines to pay enough attention to handling wheelchairs properly.”

In 2023, 11,527 wheelchairs and scooters were mishandled by airlines in the U.S. — an 11.5% increase from 2022 — and 5.5 million Americans use wheelchairs, according to the USDOT.

Under this scheme, passengers can choose a vendor to repair or replace damaged and mishandled wheelchairs. USTOD proposes that airlines provide loaner wheelchairs and transport delayed wheelchairs to passengers' final destinations within 24 hours.

USDOT also wants to mandate better employee training and require airlines to ensure that passengers have as many personal wheelchairs available at the aircraft door as possible.

USTOD said last July that it would require airlines to enlarge lavatories on future single-aisle flights to accommodate and maneuver a disabled passenger and an attendant.

The proposal is open for public comment for 60 days.

The department is considering future regulations to require passengers to be in their own wheelchair while flying.

In September, after an investigation, United Airlines agreed under a contract with the USDOT to improve air travel for passengers who use wheelchairs, including refunds for the difference if a higher fare flight is required with a certain wheelchair size.

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USDOT is seeking comment on whether the reimbursement process should be mandated and reveals that some investigations into mishandled wheelchairs are underway. (Reporting by David Shepherdson; Editing by Tom Hoke)