Many New Yorkers are beginning to think about summer vacations. Traveling can be hectic and even stressful, but for passengers with disabilities, the prospect of air travel can be truly daunting. However, a recently enacted law may provide a new measure of comfort to passengers with physical limitations.

On October 5, 2018, the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018 was signed into law. Included in the law were a number of reforms designed to protect the rights of airline passengers with disabilities and to resolve some of the issues that they encounter at the airport and on airplanes. The law directed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to create a bill of rights to ensure that passengers with disabilities are able to travel without discrimination.

While airports are currently governed by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and air travel is covered by the Air Carrier Access Act, the new law directs the FAA to expand the previous protections by creating a clear and concise list of six basic rights that passenger with disabilities are entitled to.  These are:

The right to be treated with “dignity and respect”;

The right to receive timely assistance if requested;

The right to fly with a wheelchair or other accessibility devices;

The right to receive seating accommodations;

The right to receive announcements in an accessible format; and

The right to speak with a complaint resolution officer or to file a complaint with an air carrier or the Department of Transportation (DOT).

In addition to the humiliation and discomfort that individuals with disabilities often encounter with regards to going through airport security screening procedures and boarding the aircraft, they are often injured and have reported many instances of damage caused to their wheelchairs due to negligence of airport or airline personnel. The new law calls for an increase in the civil penalties assessed for bodily harm to a passenger with a disability and for damage done to wheelchairs or other mobility aids.

Another obstacle that passengers with disabilities often face is that they must wait for other passengers to be serviced before they are offered assistance. This has led to instances in which passengers with disabilities attempt to help themselves, resulting in both humiliating and dangerous situations. The new law calls for a review, and if necessary, a revision of the regulations ensuring that passengers with disabilities receive dignified, timely and effective assistance at airports and on aircraft.

Advocates for individuals with disabilities have long been pushing for wheelchair-friendly restraint systems in airplane cabins that would allow passengers to board the aircraft without having to be transferred into regular airplane seats. This would resolve the always uncomfortable, often embarrassing, and sometimes dangerous situation of seating wheelchair bound passengers on commercial aircraft. This may also create a possibility of air travel for those passengers that cannot be transferred from their wheelchairs even temporarily. The new law calls for a study of in-cabin wheelchair restraint systems, in coordination with disability advocates, air carriers and aircraft manufacturers.

Recently there have been many stories on the news regarding service animals, and while some of the stories may seem amusing to the general public (emotional support ferrets, squirrels and peacocks, to name a few) they have also raised awareness of the need for clear guidelines regarding service animals and air travel. The 2018 law directs the Department of Transportation to propose federal regulations addressing service animals within 18 months.

This new law will hopefully restore a new measure of dignity and respect for travelers with disabilities and allow them to see the world without some of the inconveniences that they previously encountered.

Ronald A. Fatoullah, Esq. is the founder of Ronald Fatoullah & Associates, a law firm that concentrates in elder law, estate planning, Medicaid planning, guardianships, estate administration, trusts, wills, and real estate. Joseph Breningstall, JD is an associate attorney with the firm (admission pending). The law firm can be reached at 718-261-1700, 516-466-4422, or toll-free at 1-877-ELDER-LAW or 1-877-ESTATES. Mr. Fatoullah is also a partner with Advice Period, a wealth management firm that provides a continuum of financial and investment advice for individuals and businesses, and he can be reached at 424-256-7273.