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Airlines and Accessibility

Airlines and Accessibility

September 18, 2007 —

Boarding All Passengers

Few consumers think about access to airplanes. You get to the gate, wait (and maybe wait some more - and some more), board the plane, and find your seat. Nothing too difficult, right? But for many Americans, getting to their seat is sometimes a challenging and humiliating affair. The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act was supposed to make airlines comply with certain responsibilities to disabled customers, especially in wheelchairs. Yet, these responsibilites are often undertaken with regret, disdain, and a minimum amount of sensitivity.

 A report issued by the Open Doors Organization in the early 2000s indicated that American travelers with disabilities could spend at least $27 billion a year, if certain needs were met. For airlines, these needs include airport “meet and greets” and preferred seating. For lodging, these include rooms close to amenities. According to the study, people with disabilities spent $13.6 billion and the suggested recommendations could double this total expenditure.

Some airlines are expanding their services. According to the web site ‘Gimp on the Go,’ which claims to be “The Internet’s Premier Disabilities Travel Publication,” some companies have made initiatives to make travel easier and more comfortable for people with disabilities.

High marks:  Delta Airlines provides larger screens to visually-impaired travelers, and hydraulic aisle chairs to help wheelchair users.

Low marks:  Northwest Airlines received the highest number of complaints regarding disability access, according to a 2004 report by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

Needs improvement: Southwest Airlines, which consistently does well in all categories of quality and service, was faulted more for disability access issues than any other issue, according to the DOT report.

Fly the Friendliest Skies

There is still much work to be done despite Delta's initiative. In May 2006, the National Council on Disability called for more accessibility for disabled passengers at airline self-service kiosk systems. The convenience of automated check-in, it is argued, should be extended to all passengers. This is another example of how airlines provide services without necessarily thinking about how some of their customers are impacted. One more thing to think about the next time you are picking an airline.

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