WASHINGTON – Eight Democratic members of the Senate Commerce Committee today urged the Department of Transportation (DOT) to reverse a one-year delay of a rule requiring airlines to track and report mishandled wheelchair and motorized scooters.
The rule, which was put in place last fall under the Obama administration and set to take effect in January 2018, was strongly supported by several veterans and disability rights groups, such as the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) and the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA). The groups say the rules were needed because wheelchairs and motorized scooters were increasing being damaged during air travel, leaving some disabled without mobility and responsible for repair costs once they reached their final destination.
“The government should be tending to the needs of injured and disabled veterans, not ignoring their concerns,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who organized today’s letter to DOT. “It makes no sense why the airlines aren’t being held more accountable for mishandled and damaged wheelchairs.”
Last November, the DOT finalized the rule and required that monthly reports on wheelchair and scooter damage be submitted beginning on January 1, 2018. Last month, the department reversed course and gave the airlines an additional year to comply with the rule.
Senators joining Nelson on the letter include: Maria Cantwell of Washington; Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut; Brian Schatz of Hawaii; Edward Markey of Massachusetts; Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin; and, Margaret Hassan of New Hampshire.
Attached is a pdf copy of the lawmakers’ letter. Below is a recent release from the Paralyzed Veterans of America.
Paralyzed Veterans of America Expresses Grave Concerns for Disabled Air Travelers
DOT Delays Requirement of US Airlines to Report Wheelchair and Scooter Enplanements and Damage
WASHINGTON, DC—This week, Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) members have been on Capitol Hill to discuss with Congressional members the organization’s 2017 legislative priorities.
This advocacy effort included educating lawmakers on the damage that people with disabilities and their wheelchairs encounter on a regular basis during air travel. Paralyzed Veterans’ broader efforts on this initiative were challenged, as the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced it will delay by one year the implementation of a rule that would require large domestic airlines to track and report information about wheelchairs and scooters.
“Paralyzed Veterans of America has grave concerns over the delay of this key component to providing disabled travelers with basic civil rights,” said Executive Director Sherman Gillums. “Our members are tired of incurring damage to their persons and wheelchairs when they travel by air, only to be caught in a web of inconvenient reporting and bureaucracy that results in little to no restitution. The information this new reporting will track plays an important role in protecting the health of our members and identifying additional training needed across the air travel industry.”
As originally published, airlines would be required to provide DOT with information on the total number of wheelchairs and scooters they enplane on a monthly basis for flights taking place on or after January 1, 2018. Airlines would also need to report how many of those wheelchairs and scooters were “mishandled.” Paralyzed Veterans originally submitted comments in response to DOT’s proposed rule on this issue in 2011.
DOT took this action in response to a request from airlines to delay the implementation of the regulation in the spirit of a memorandum issued by the White House Chief of Staff on January 20. In part, that memorandum directed agencies to delay for 60 days the effective date of published regulations that had not yet taken effect.
“This memorandum was not specifically directed at this type of final rule, which had already been under consideration for several years, and became effective in December 2016,” continued Gillums. “At the very least, DOT should have formally requested comments from all stakeholders prior to granting this extension that only further delays the collection of this critical information.”
Paralyzed Veterans will continue to raise our concerns about DOT’s actions on this and other regulatory matters impacting veterans with disabilities in air travel.