DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION ANNOUNCES CONSIDERATION OF NEGOTIATED RULEMAKING FOR PASSENGER DISABILITY LAWS

DOT has announced that it is exploring the feasibility of utilizing a negotiated rulemaking process to address future legal accommodations for air travelers with disabilities. Issues to be addressed include (1) access to inflight entertainment and supplemental medical oxygen; (2) the definition and accommodation of service animals on flights; (3) accessibility of lavatories on single-aisle aircraft; (4) seating accommodations; and (5) carrier reporting of disability service requests.

Following the announcement, more than 50 public comments were submitted to DOT, including several members of the aviation industry. Although consideration of the negotiated rulemaking process was generally supported, certain entities, such as the Airline Experience Association, specifically opposed the negotiated rulemaking process for the consideration of issues such as In-Flight entertainment for disabled passengers, due to its reliance on complex technology involving hardware and software content currently outside of the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation. Additionally, the Los Angeles Airports Association protested the definition of service animals as established in the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) as too broad, thus opening the door for potential abuse.

Airlines 4 America requested that if the negotiated rulemaking process is to be convened, that the Department of Transportation publically provide all information required by the ACAA, including how moving forward with the process was determined to be in the public interest. Airlines 4 America also requested access to specific information used by the Department of Transportation to support its belief that a reasonable likelihood exists that consensus on all issues could be reached.

Similarly, Delta Airlines raised concerns for the Department’s ability to reach consensus for issues including the provision of inflight medical oxygen, inflight entertainment, accessible lavatories on single-aisle aircraft, disability assistance request time monitoring and seating accommodations. However, Delta did believe that the definition and accommodation of service animals would be amenable to the negotiated rulemaking process.

The International Air Transport Association agreed with Delta’s positions, although it added an additional request for the Department to consider potential abuses of current requirements to provide passengers with wheelchairs as a sixth issue as part of the Negotiated Rulemaking process.

We will continue to keep you updated on the negotiated rulemaking process. If you are interested in submitting a comment, or have concerns regarding the above, please let us know.

If you have any questions, please contact Evelyn Sahr (esahr@eckertseamans.com, 202-659-6622), Drew Derco (dderco@eckertseamans.com, 202-659-6665), or Reese Davidson (rdavidson@eckertseamans.com, 202-659-6633).

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