Accessible Air Travel: Addressing Challenges for Passengers with Disabilities
2167 Rayburn House Office Building and online via videoconferencing
This is a hearing of the Subcommittee on Aviation.
Opening remarks of Subcommittee on Aviation Ranking Member Garret Graves (R-LA):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to our witnesses.
It’s no secret that, as Members of Congress, we fly a lot. We can all tell you that even before the pandemic, flying in this country had a number of challenges that reflect the cumulative travel experience: getting to the airport, finding parking, shuttling to the airport, the checking-in process, potentially paying for baggage, going through security, paying $10 for water and $12 for a granola bar. If you are late, maybe you get to pay a fee for a change in the ticket, and you might be sitting in a seat that isn’t exactly the most comfortable. Then you have to land at the other airport, and you go through it all over again.
Keep in mind, that’s the baseline experience for most passengers. Now imagine if you are disabled or a differently-abled passenger. Individuals with disabilities already face challenges in everyday life. It is especially true during air travel. It’s no wonder many disabled passengers choose not to travel by air and in turn miss out on important family functions or work opportunities.
We are here to discuss those overwhelming challenges, and I want to thank my colleague Rep. Langevin in particular for appearing today to share his personal experience to support our work of ensuring access to air travel to passengers of all abilities.
Just last month was the 36th anniversary of the passage of the Air Carrier Access Act, an important piece of legislation that prohibits the discrimination of a person with disabilities during air travel. While great advancement has been made in addressing barriers to access for those in the disability community, we are going to learn today many barriers still exist.
In August of this year, there were 195 disability-related complaints reported during air travel. Furthermore, there were over 1,000 reports of mishandled wheelchairs or scooters.
As air travel continues to grow, it’s important that we address these issues. The 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act included a specific bipartisan subtitle addressing issues related to aviation consumers with disabilities. As the Chairman noted, we covered a number of improvements including the GAO report that was issued last year recommending some additional actions.
We also established of the Air Carrier Access Act Advisory Committee tasked with investigating different aspects of travel experience and providing recommendations to address air travel needs. It required a review of practices for ticketing pre-flight assignments and stowing of assisted devices, to ensure that individuals with disabilities receive necessary accommodations, and called for a disabled passenger bill of rights among other provisions.
It's important to understand what has been accomplished and what work remains to be done as we look forward to the future and decide how we can improve.
Collaboration throughout the aviation industry is absolutely key to creating this positive comprehensive experience which supports all passengers having a dignified flying experience, and I look forward to building on the 2018 bill ahead of next year’s reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration.