travelers, disabilities, air travel, discrimination
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) is one of a number of federal laws that are designed to ensure the fair treatment of disabled individuals. However, the ACAA specifically applies only to those who take to the “friendly skies” and embark on one of the nation’s most sophisticated means of moving people, flight. The ACAA was enacted to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Paralyzed Veterans v. DOT, which held that the protections of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act did not apply to airlines.
It is the thesis of this article that, while the ACAA is a well-intended law that provides some protections to the disabled air traveler, the lack of a private right of action and an association clause render its protections inadequate. This article will describe the Act’s statutory protections for travelers with disabling conditions, as well as the remedies afforded passengers when incidents of discrimination occur.
The article will briefly recapitulate the legislative history of the ACAA and the subsequent case law, highlighting the deficiencies that remain. Throughout this article, the ACAA is compared with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Finally, the article will suggest changes that are needed both to existing laws and to airline employee practices in order to bring the ACAA in line with its original spirit and purpose, the protection of the civil rights of air travelers with disabilities.
9 Issues in Aviation Law and Policy (2010).