Flying Will Get a Little Easier for Families and the Disabled, Feds Say

July 12, 2022
The U.S. DOT's OACP issued its first “Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights,” a summary of the rights of disabled travelers to “help ensure that U.S. and foreign air carriers and their contractors uphold those rights.”

While complaints against airlines keep pouring in about canceled and delayed flights, the federal government released new guidance to make flying easier for families and the disabled.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) on Friday issued a notice urging U.S. airlines to do “everything in their power” to make sure children who are 13 or younger are seated next to an accompanying adult with no additional charge.

“There continue to be complaints of instances where young children, including a child as young as 11 months, are not seated next to an accompanying adult,” it said, noting that it is starting a review of airline policies on the issue.

The agency also issued its first “Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights,” a summary of the rights of disabled travelers to “help ensure that U.S. and foreign air carriers and their contractors uphold those rights.”

“Today’s announcements are the latest steps toward ensuring an air travel system that works for everyone,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. “Whether you’re a parent expecting to sit together with your young children on a flight, a traveler with a disability navigating air travel, or a consumer traveling by air for the first time in a while, you deserve safe, accessible, affordable and reliable airline service.”

The actions come a week after consumer advocacy groups, citing the $50 billion in aid given to the airline industry during the pandemic, sent a letter to Congress asking for lawmakers to take action to put passengers first.

Among its asks was for the airlines to drop fees that are sometimes charged to minor children to be seated with their parents and caregivers.

“Of all of the ridiculous fees that many airlines have imposed over the years, charging a parent or a caregiver extra to sit with a young child is at the top of the list,” said Teresa Murray, Consumer Watchdog with U.S. PIRG. “We wish the Department of Transportation would do more than just call on airlines to drop these family seating fees and instead require them to drop the fees now. But this is a step in the right direction.”

The moves come at a time when consumer complaints against airlines are up more than 300% above pre-pandemic levels, according to the USDOT’s most recent Air Travel Consumer Report, which doesn’t include mounting complaints from passengers in May, June and July.

Similar to 2020 and 2021, the largest number of complaints were about refunds, followed by flight problems, the agency said.

Consumers can file complaints about air travel on the agency’s website.

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Karin Price Mueller may be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @KPMueller.

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