As anyone who has gone to the wrong gate or nearly missed their flight can attest, navigating airports and catching planes can be stressful and sometimes confusing . These challenges are even bigger for people with certain disabilities — visual impairments or hearing conditions can prevent them from being able to easily read changing information boards, for instance, or to hear updated flight information over airport public address systems.
To help address this issue, the United States Department of Transportation has put rules in place that ensure that people with disabilities can access the information and services needed for airline travel. The measures are governed by the Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel: Accessibility of Web Sites and Automated Kiosks at U.S. Airports regulations, which came into effect in December 2013. The rules are an extension of the original Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) implemented in 1986.
These rules apply to all U.S. and foreign airlines that operate at least one aircraft with a seating capacity greater than 60 passengers and that have a public-facing website marketing its services to U.S. consumers. This means that all major and even minor airlines are required to comply with the regulations.
THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION REQUIREMENTS
The regulations require compliance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) Level AA as well as some specific additional requirements such as that user testing be conducted with people with disabilities, and that a specific form be integrated into airline booking engines for users who require further assistance at the airport. This lets users make specific requests that can facilitate their travel such as special seating requirements, wheelchair assistance, escort assistance for people with a visual impairment, or help with stowage of assistive devices.
While the compliance aspects of the regulations aimed at website accessibility were progressively rolled out, all changes had to be in place by December 2016 so that the requirements now apply to all current airline web pages. These require that carriers ensure that web pages on their primary web sites associated with core travel information and services conform to all Level AA success criteria of the WCAG 2.0. This ensures they are fully accessible and are compatible with:
- Booking flights and changing reservations
- Checking in
- Accessing flight schedules and flight status information
- Accessing travel itineraries
- Accessing personal frequent flyer accounts
- Accessing carrier contact details
The requirements also detail the need for airlines and airports to ensure that all shared-use automated airport kiosks installed after December 2016 meet required technical accessibility standards until at least 25 percent of automated kiosks in each location at an airport are accessible. Accessible kiosks provided in each location at the airport must also provide all the same functions as the inaccessible kiosks in that location.
Ultimately, these rules are a positive step for all airline travelers as the rules ensure not only that people with disabilities have an easier time moving through airports and taking flights, but also that access and information services are standardized across airline carriers and airports. Additionally, the rules mean that travelers without a disability also have additional options available such as greater ability to access service information in, for instance, noisy or poorly lit environments or when needing wheelchair services due to a temporary illness or injury.