DOT hears criticism of rights plan for flyers with
By Andrew Compart, Travel Weekly
Editor: A while ago we published a story about proposed rules by the
Department of Transportation that would greatly improve access to
information by air travelers with hearing loss. As you might expect the
airlines aren't crazy about having to implement these proposals. The
following story has the latest on this situation. It originally appeared in
Travel Weekly and is shared here with their kind permission.
A multiyear effort at the Transportation Department to create a consensus
on rights for deaf and hearing-impaired air travelers is coming apart, with
airlines blasting a DOT proposal supported by the community's advocates.
The criticism concerns a DOT notice of proposed rulemaking in February to
create numerous requirements for airlines, including giving deaf and
hearing-impaired travelers "prompt" access to the same information provided
to other passengers.
Among other things, that would mean providing captioning on televisions
and other audiovisual systems on airline-owned, -leased or -controlled
property at U.S. airports and providing captioning for in-flight safety,
informational and entertainment content on new aircraft.
The proposed rules also would require airlines to train employees to
communicate with hearing-impaired individuals.
The rules would apply not only to U.S. carriers but also foreign carriers
for flights that land or take off from a U.S. airport.
Advocates for the hearing-impaired were thrilled with most of the
"Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals have been excluded from air travel
services and information for too many years," Kelby Brick, director of law
and advocacy for the National Association of the Deaf, said when the DOT
issued its proposal.
But in comments filed with the DOT last month, the Airline Transport
Association accused the DOT of overstepping its bounds in the proposal. It
said the Air Carrier Access Act requires only that airlines provide
nondiscriminatory access to air travel, not to every aspect of air travel.
"The DOT has conflated civil rights with customer service matters that it
should leave to the competitive marketplace to address," the ATA said.
The ATA also argued that the proposal "involves significant costs that
impose an undue burden on airlines." Both the ATA and the Regional Airline
Association claimed that the DOT underestimated the costs and overestimated
the benefits. The National Air Carrier Association expressed the same
Foreign airlines also almost unanimously opposed the proposal, arguing
that the U.S. did not have the authority to apply the rules to their flights
and that the requirements could put them in conflict with disabled traveler
rules in their home countries.
That's the same argument those carriers made about a DOT proposal, still
under consideration, to expand existing disabled-traveler rules for U.S.
airlines to foreign airline flights that use U.S. airports.
The DOT issued that notice of proposed rulemaking in November 2004, in
response to an amendment to the ACAA that prohibits foreign air carrier
discrimination against disabled travelers.
Groups representing the hearing-impaired have been pushing for air travel
rules for more than a decade. They moved closer to their goal in August 2002
when the DOT asked the National Council on Disability, an independent
federal agency, to submit a proposal to improve air travel access for deaf,
hearing-impaired and deaf-blind travelers.
The NCD quickly asse mbled a working group that included representatives
of hearing-impaired communities, airports and airlines.
But the airlines were never persuaded that government regulation was the
way to improve the services. Those objections were made even more clear when
the airlines filed their comments to the DOT last month.
The ATA emphasized that the DOT "should not consider our active
participation in the work group as an endorsement of the petition."
Copyright 2006 Travel Weekly, Reprinted with Permission