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Biden administration proposes stricter penalties for airlines mishandling wheelchairs

image credit: Andrey Popov @adobestock

The Biden administration is taking strides to enhance protections for passengers with disabilities by proposing stricter penalties for airlines found guilty of mishandling wheelchairs.

This move aims to fortify the enforcement of federal laws concerning accessible air travel.

According to the proposal put forth by the U.S. Transportation Department, airlines could face automatic fines for damaging or misplacing wheelchairs.

Additionally, the department is advocating for mandatory annual training for airline staff responsible for handling wheelchairs or assisting passengers with disabilities.

The issue of damaged or lost wheelchairs during air travel has been on the rise, with statistics revealing a significant increase from 2022 to last year.

In 2023 alone, airlines reportedly mishandled 11,527 wheelchairs and scooters, up from 10,337 the previous year.

The proposed rule is slated to be announced during a White House event, where advocates for individuals with disabilities will also be present.

Following the announcement, there will be a 60-day period for public feedback. However, the timeline for finalizing the proposal remains uncertain, as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg declined to provide a definitive schedule during a briefing with reporters.

Under the proposed rule, airlines could face fines of approximately $125,000 for damaging a wheelchair or causing delays in its return to the passenger after a flight.

Additionally, passengers would be granted the right to choose their preferred vendor for repairing or replacing a damaged wheelchair, with airlines obligated to cover the expenses.