What is the ACAA?
The Air Carrier Access Act, or ACAA, provides rules and regulations to ensure that people with disabilities have reasonable and fair access at airlines and airports. Minimum requirements set out by the act include:
- Prohibiting U.S. and foreign airlines from discriminating against passengers on the basis of disability.
- Requiring airlines to ensure their facilities, services, and aircraft are all designed to be accessible.
- Requiring airlines to take appropriate steps to accommodate passengers with disabilities.
These broad guidelines, of course, include further specifications. For example, prohibiting discriminatory practices ensures that passengers cannot be refused transportation on the basis of disability, unless it compromises the safety of the flight. They also cannot require advance notice that a person with disability is traveling, unless advance notice is required to secure specific accommodations, such as respirator hookups.
Accessibility of facilities includes similar definitions, including provisos for storage of wheelchairs, movable aisle armrests, accessible lavatories, and more.
Accommodations made for disabled persons include assistance for boarding, deplaning, and making connection flights, among others. Assistance requirements continue after boarding, in the cabin, and airlines must have trained individuals on staff. Service animals must be permitted as well.
One key area that is well covered in the ACAA is the requirement to provide passenger information, such as ticketing, scheduled departure times and gates, change of gate assignments, status of flight delays, schedule changes, flight check-in, and how to check and claim luggage. Carriers must ensure that this passenger information is readily available to any individuals who identify themselves as needing assistance in obtaining information, including those with vision or hearing impairments. Any carrier providing telephone service for making reservations or for general information also has to provide TTY or other comparable services.
On November 12, 2013, the U.S. Department of Transportation published one final rule to the ACAA in the Federal Register, requiring U.S. air carriers and foreign air carriers to ensure that their websites marketing air transportation are accessible to individuals with disabilities. This new rule formally recognized that it was no longer enough for airlines to accommodate your disability when you arrive at the airport, but they must also ensure that there are no barriers to booking your trip, or navigating the website used to book your voyage.
Core online travel services had to be made accessible by December 2015, and as of June 30, 2016, the final amendment to the ACAA came into effect, requiring that all pages on a carrier’s website be made accessible. All public-facing pages on airlines’ websites must conform to the standards of accessibility contained in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.
Not only must the websites be made accessible, they must also be consistently tested for usability in consultation with individuals or organizations representing visual, auditory, tactile, and cognitive disabilities. Violations of the Air Carrier Accessibility Act can be very costly, with each individual violation subject to a $27,500 USD fine, and it’s rarely a single violation. If you are a carrier providing flights to the U.S., whether foreign or domestic, it is very important that you maintain a partnership with someone who can provide gap analysis of your website and conduct adequate user testing.
With this final proviso in effect, airlines are responsible for ensuring that the passenger experience for a is as painless for disabled individuals as it is for anyone else, from booking the flight to arrival at destination. When it comes to accessibility, websites are one of the easiest areas to control, and a seamless experience will go a long way to ensuring a positive experience for the disabled passenger.