The Air Carrier Access Act requires airports and airlines to provide assistance to passengers who request assistance due to age, infirmity, illness, injury, or disability. While the airlines and airports cannot require a passenger to accept special services or assistance, they are required to provide special services and assistance when requested. Airports and airlines cannot exclude disabled passengers from the benefits or services available to other passengers, and they cannot take adverse action against a passenger who needs and requests such services. These rights are protected by the Air Carrier Access Act.
Importantly, the airlines are required to provide assistance to and from the entrance of the airport and the gates that the airlines are using for travel. This means that the airline must provide assistance in key functional areas such as ticketing and baggage claim, as well as providing assistance getting to and from the aircraft, and boarding and disembarking from the aircraft.
Many airlines delegate their duties to a subcontractor who may provide these services in all or various parts of the airport. However, this does not relieve the duty of the airline to provide the proper and safe provision of these services to the passengers who need them.
Unfortunately, airlines and their subcontractors often fail to provide the necessary services to the passengers who need them the most. Often an airline will promise that a wheelchair will be available upon arrival at the connecting, or destination airport, but the wheelchair is missing or absent upon arrival. Frequently a passenger with a limited amount of time to move between connecting flights will find that assistance is not provided or available on a timely basis.
When assistance is provided, it is often provided in a substandard, half hazard way by persons who are not trained to deal with disabled, handicapped, or infirm passengers. Disabled passengers are often left for significant amounts of time without any assistance or supervision. Paralyzed passengers may not be strapped into wheel chairs and may be dumped on the ground. Wheelchairs may be parked on inclines and roll over. Or, attendants may drop passengers while trying to move them between wheelchairs, onto carts, into chairs, or down stairs and ramps.
Ticketing agents and gate agents often do not understand the medical issues or medical necessities of traveling passengers, and often will make discriminatory, rude, insensitive, and offensive remarks. Sometimes, these same ticketing agents will deny boarding to a passenger with a medical issue, or who possesses specialized medical equipment, even though the passenger is allowed to, and needs to, travel on the airline with his or her medical device.
How do you as a passenger assure yourself that you will receive the care and assistance you need at the airport?
- The Air Carrier Access Act does not require you to provide advance notice of your need for assistance. However, as a practical matter, you should request the assistance you need in writing before you start your travels.
- You should request assistance, or inform the airline of your special needs, at the time you purchase your tickets.
- A few days before you travel, you should call the airline and request assistance or inform the airline of your specialized needs.
- When you check in, do so verbally on the phone. As you check in, advise the customer service representative of your need for assistance or your specialized needs while at the airport or on the airline. At this time, ask the agent to document your request in your “passenger name record.” If the agent does so, it will ensure that there is a record of your request and need for assistance, and this request will be passed along to each airport and each airline that you utilize during your trip.
If you follow these steps, the assistance you need still may not be properly provided. But, it should help and mitigate the chance that you will be left without any assistance when you need it the most.
Does a breach of the Air Carrier Access Act give you a claim or cause of action against the airport, the airline, or their subcontractors? Not directly. The Courts are split on this issue, but the majority believe that you can assert your claim under certain state law causes of action and use the Air Carrier Access Act to define the duty owed to you as a passenger. It takes an aviation law specialist, like the lawyers at the Stilwell Law Firm, to know what your claim is, and how to assert it.
If you have been denied the care and assistance you need at the airport, and it caused you harm, then call the Stilwell Law Firm. Most lawyers may not know or understand your rights, but we do. We have written and spoken extensively on these issues. You can download the Air Carrier Access Act and our guidance on how to protect your rights as an airline passenger.
The quickest and safest way to get the assistance you need is to call the Stilwell Law Firm.
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