Today travel by air in the United States is covered by the Air Carriers Access Act of 1986 and the subsequent regulations published in March 1990. This law provides that no air carrier may discriminate against any otherwise qualified individual with a disability by reason of such disability in the provision of air transportation. For information about these regulations and also changes resulting from the American With Disabilities Act, the best source is a 33-page booklet from the Department of Transportation entitled New Horizons for the Air Traveler With a Disability. Topics include accessibility of airports and aircraft; requirements for advance notice, attendants, and medical certificates; handling of mobility aids and assistive devices; and much more, including how to file a complaint. Another useful federal publication is Access Travel: Airports (#580Y), which provides details on handicapped facilities and services at 533 airports worldwide. These booklets are available free from S. James, Consumer Information Center 2-D, P. O. Box 100, Pueblo, CO 81002. A $1.00 service fee is charged for up to 25 free booklets.
Travelers with disabilities can therefore expect to travel by air within the United States without unnecessary restriction. The same law applies to all U.S. carriers on international flights. IATA, the International Air Transport Association, also carries disabled passengers under similar rules, with one or two exceptions, since July 1994. For a copy of the specific IATA rules, contact IATA Publications Agent, 2000 Peel St., Montreal, Quebec H3A 2R4, Canada or other IATA offices outside North America.
So long as your disability is stable and not liable to deteriorate during travel (e.g., paraplegia, quadriplegia, post-polio, diabetes, mental handicaps, etc.), you can expect to be treated like any other passenger with special needs (e.g., those with special dietary requirements). Ask your travel agent to notify the airlines that you will travel with, under the code SSR (Special Service Request) or OSI (Other Service Information), of your status and the special services you will need. This must be done at least 48 hours prior to your departure.
In the event of a problem with airport or in flight personnel, you should require them to contact the Complaints Resolution Officer (CRO), who by law must always be available and willing to deal with your grievance. They cannot refuse. Passengers who require oxygen when traveling are subject to special safety regulations and require a doctor’s prescription with specific information. They may be required to pay for the provision of equipment and cannot use their own, which must be empty and stored in the baggage compartment (carried free of charge). See also the specific information sheet for your disability.
A growing number of American airlines publish travel information for handicapper passengers. American airports are also producing booklets about their facilities and services for handicapped travelers. Airports currently offering such guides include the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, Logan Airport in Boston, and McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.