Personal tools

Interested in disability history? Check out what happened Today in AT History!

Travel: Airplanes

From ATWiki

Jump to: navigation, search

This article is about flying with a disability. The Federal Aviation Administration(FAA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) regulate air travel. The two main documents that protect the rights of people with disabilities while traveling via airplanes are the Air Carrier Access rules, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. A synopsis of the Air Carrier Access rules, as well as some other info, are provided below.

For general rights while flying, see

The freedom to fly opens up many possibilities from the thrill of flying to visiting history and experiencing other cultures. Traveling is an adventure for everyone. A well planned trip will ensure it is a great adventure.


Planning a Trip

Advanced Notification

It is not generally required that a person with a disability notify the airline prior to the trip, but doing so can make the trip run smoother. There are several situations that do require prior notification and early check-in. These include:

   "--Transportation for an electric wheelchair on an aircraft with fewer than 60 seats;
    --Provision by the carrier of hazardous materials packaging for the battery of a wheelchair or other assistive device;
    --Accommodations for 10 or more passengers with disabilities who travel as a group;
    --Provision of an on-board wheelchair on an aircraft that does not have an accessible 
    lavatory for persons who can use an inaccessible lavatory but need an on-board chair to do so.
    --An airline that uses a “block seating” approach to provide special seating for passengers with 
    disabilities is free to require 24 hours advance notice for such accommodations." (


Attendants may be required by the airline if there is a concern regarding the ability of the passenger to independently exit the airplane in the event of an emergency for any reason. This attendant is required only to help the individual exit the plane in the event of an emergency evacuation. This is different from a person who usually travels accompanied by a personal attendant. An airline required attendant can not be charged for the flight and can range from an off duty flight attendant on the flight to another passenger. (

Refusal of Transport

There are several reasons that an airline may refuse transport to an individual:

--Transporting the individual would endanger the health or safety of other passengers.

--The passenger could not be seated within FAA rules for exit row seating.

--There are no lifts or ramps for the person to board the aircraft. Airline personnel are not required to carry an individual with a disability onto the plane.

--There are special rules for persons with certain disabilities and communicable diseases.

At the Airport

Security Screening

Persons with disabilities are screened in the same way as other passengers. If the individual can pass through the metal detector without setting off an alarm, he cannot be subject to special screening. If an alarm is initiated, an individual screening is done. If this can be done with the hand held wand, the individual can continue. If this is not possible, a private screening can be requested. This must be done in a timely manner so as to allow the individual to make his flight. The security personnel may investigate an assistive device that could used used to conceal a prohibited item.

For specifics from the TSA, visit their website:

On the Plane Airplanes build or refurbished after 1992 must have these features:

   "For aircraft with 30 or more passenger seats:
       --At least one half of the armrests on aisle seats shall be movable to 
       facilitate transferring passengers from on‑board wheelchairs to the aisle seat;
       --Carriers shall establish procedures to ensure that individuals with 
       disabilities can readily obtain seating in rows with movable aisle armrests;
       --An aisle seat is not required to have a movable armrest if not feasible 
       or if a person with a disability would be precluded from sitting there by 
       FAA safety rules (e.g., an exit row).
    For aircraft with 100 or more seats:
       --Priority space in the cabin shall be provided for stowage of at least one 
       passenger’s folding wheelchair. (This rule also applies to aircraft of smaller 
       size, if there is a closet large enough to accommodate a folding wheelchair.)
    For aircraft with more than one aisle:
       --At least one accessible lavatory (with door locks, call buttons, grab bars, and 
       lever faucets) shall be available which will have sufficient room to allow a 
       passenger using an on-board wheelchair to enter, maneuver, and use the facilities 
       with the same degree of privacy as other passengers.
   Aircraft with more than 60 seats must have an operable on-board wheelchair if
       --There is an accessible lavatory, or
       --A passenger provides advance notice that he or she can use an inaccessible lavatory 
       but needs an on-board chair to reach it, even if the aircraft predated the rule and 
       has not been refurbished."


As stated above, all aircraft with 2 aisles must have accessible lavatories, but the regulations are functional and not architectural. This means that it may not be large enough for some persons with wheelchairs, depending on transfer needs. The size and layout are not consistent among airlines or plane types. Ask the airline for specific measurements before you book - 'accessible' can be deceiving.


Assistive devices that are being used (ie. not a tennis chair) can be stored in the cabin and have priority over other passengers carry-on items. If the passenger boarded at a previous stop, they have priority. Also, the assistive device does not count towards the total number of carry-on items. Items in the cargo area also have priority.

Battery powered chairs must also be transported unless the plane is too small. But note that batteries do have hazardous chemicals and thus must be treated carefully and in accordance with the law.

Helpful Websites This page has a link to the full legal document from the DOT.

Author: Laura Jones
Affiliation: Georgia Tech