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Here are some helpful FAA Guidelines

[ General Guidelines ] [ Passengers with Disabilities ] [ Recourses ]

Applicable Laws and Rights Serving Americans with Disabilities

It is useful to spend some time becoming educated about how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Air Carriers Access Act (ACAA) affect the traveler with SCI.

The ADA, passed in 1990, gave civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities. It guarantees equal opportunity in employment, transportation, public accommodations, telecommunications, and state and local government. For travelers with SCI, this means travel related services, such as lodging, dining, entertainment venues, bus and rail stations, cruise ship terminals, and airports are impacted and should be more accessible as the industry comes into compliance.

The ACAA, passed in 1986, guarantees that people with disabilities receive consistent and non-discriminatory treatment when traveling by air. An experienced travel agency will provide SCI travelers with a copy of the ACAA. It is recommended that travelers with SCI bring a copy of the ACAA whenever flying. Having a copy on hand can help both the passenger with a SCI and airline personnel clarify any misunderstanding about what is covered.

These laws have dramatically improved how individuals with SCI travel. However, travel industry suppliers need to be constantly educated about their obligation under these laws. \

General Guidelines

Time Factors, Curbside Check In

The heightened security measures require more time to screen travelers.  Clients should   contact their airline to find out how early they should arrive at the airport.

Travelers should take public transportation when possible to the airport.  Parking and curbside access is likely to be controlled and limited.

Curbside check in is available on an airline basis.  Travelers should contact their airline to see if curbside check in is in place at the airports they will be using.

Check In  

A government-issued photo ID (federal, state or local) is required.  Travelers might be asked to show this ID at subsequent points after the initial check in, such as at the gate, along with their boarding passes.

Automated check–in kiosks are available for airlines that have appropriate security measures in place.  Travelers should check with their airline to see if this option is available at the airport they will be using.

E-ticket travelers should check with their airline to make sure they have proper documentation.  Written confirmation such as a letter from the airline acknowledging the reservation might be required.

Screening Checkpoints

Only ticketed passengers are allowed beyond screener checkpoints, except for people accompanying travelers who require assistance due to medical or parental needs.
Each traveler will be limited to one carry on bag and one personal bag (i.e. purse or briefcase).

All electrical items, such as laptops and cell phones, might be subjected to additional screening. Be prepared to remove your laptop from its travel case so that both items can be X-rayed separately.

Passengers should limit the amount off metal objects worn on his or her person.
Travelers should remove all metal objects prior to passing through the metal detectors to facilitate the screening process.

Items Prohibited From Aircraft Cabins

The following items must be in, or transported as, checked baggage or risk confiscation.  When in doubt, transport item in checked baggage.

  • Knives of any length, composition or description

  • Cutting instruments of any kind, including knives and box cutters (and spare blades), any device with a folding or retractable blade, ice picks, straight razors, metal scissors and metal nail files.

  • Corkscrews

  • Baseball or softball bats

  • Golf clubs

  • Pool Cues

  • Ski poles

  • Hockey sticks

Items Permitted To Be Carried On To Airplanes

Walking canes and umbrellas (once inspected to ensure prohibited items are not concealed)

Electric razors

Syringes (with documented proof of medical need)


Eyelash curlers

What To Expect At The Gate  

Travelers must be prepared to present a valid photo ID along with their boarding pass

Travelers and their bags might be subjected to additional screening

 In General                      

Clients should control all bags and personal items

Clients should not carry anything on board for another person

Clients should report any unattended items in the airport or aircraft to the nearest airport or airline personnel  

Passengers with Disabilities

The Air Carrier Access Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in air travel and requires U.S. air carriers to accommodate the needs of passengers with disabilities. The Department of Transportation has a rule defining the rights of passengers and the obligations of air carriers under this law. The following is a summary of the main points of the DOT rule (Title 14 CFR, Part 382).

Prohibition of Discriminatory Practices

  • Carriers may not refuse transportation to people on the basis of disability. Airlines may exclude anyone from a flight if carrying the person would be inimical to the safety of the flight. If a carrier excludes a person with a disability on safety grounds, the carrier must provide a written explanation of the decision.

Airlines may not require advance notice that a person with a disability is traveling. Carriers may require up to 48 hours’ advance notice for certain accommodations that require preparation time (e.g., respirator hook-up, transportation of an electric wheelchair on an aircraft with less than 60 seats).

Carriers may not limit the number of disabled persons on a flight.

  • Carriers may not require a person with a disability to travel with an attendant, except in certain limited circumstances specified in the rule. If a disabled passenger and the carrier disagree about the need for an attendant, the airline can require the attendant, but cannot charge for the transportation of the attendant.
  • Airlines may not keep anyone out of a seat on the basis of handicap, or require anyone to sit in a particular seat on the basis of handicap, except as an FAA safety rule requires. FAA's rule on exit row seating says that carriers may place in exit rows only persons who can perform a series of functions necessary in an emergency evacuation.

Accessibility of facilities

  • New aircraft with 30 or more seats must have movable aisle armrests on half the aisle seats in the aircraft. "New aircraft" requirements apply to planes ordered after April 5, 1990 or delivered after April 5, 1992. No retrofit is required, although compliance with on-board wheelchair requirements (see below) became mandatory on April 5, 1992 regardless of the plane’s age. As older planes are refurbished, required accessibility features (e.g., movable armrests) must be added.
  • New widebody (twin-aisle) aircraft must have accessible lavatories.
  • New aircraft with 100 or more seats must have priority space for storing a passenger’s folding wheelchair in the cabin.
  • Aircraft with more than 60 seats and an accessible lavatory must have an on-board wheelchair, regardless of when the aircraft was ordered or delivered. For flights on aircraft with more than 60 seats that do not have an accessible lavatory, carriers must place an on-board wheelchair on the flight if a passenger with a disability gives the airline 48 hours’ notice that he or she can use an inaccessible lavatory but needs an on-board wheelchair to reach the lavatory.

  • Airport facilities owned or operated by carriers must meet the same accessibility standards that apply to Federally-assisted airport operators.

Other Services and Accommodations

  • Airlines are required to provide assistance with boarding, deplaning and making connections. Assistance within the cabin is also required, but not extensive personal services. Ramps or mechanical lifts must be available for most aircraft with 19 through 30 seats at larger U.S. airports by December 1998, and at all U.S. airports with over 10,000 annual enplanements by December 2000.
  • Disabled passengers’ items stored in the cabin must conform to FAA rules on the stowage of carry-on baggage. Assistive devices do not count against any limit on the number of pieces of carry-on baggage. Wheelchairs (including collapsible battery-powered wheelchairs) and other assistive devices have priority for in-cabin storage space (including in closets) over other passengers’ items brought on board at the same airport, if the passenger with a disability chooses to preboard.
  • Wheelchairs and other assistive devices have priority over other items for storage in the baggage compartment.
  • Carriers must accept battery-powered wheelchairs, including the batteries, packaging the batteries in hazardous materials packages when necessary. The carrier provides the packaging.
  • Carriers may not charge for providing accommodations required by the rule, such as hazardous materials packaging for batteries. However, they may charge for optional services such as oxygen.
  • Other provisions concerning services and accommodations address treatment of mobility aids and asistive devices, passenger information, accommodations for persons with hearing impairments, security screening, communicable diseases and medical certificates, and service animals.

Administrative Provisions

  • Training is required for carrier and contractor personnel who deal with the traveling public.
  • Carriers must make available specially-trained "complaints resolution officials" to respond to complaints from passengers and must also respond to written complaints. A DOT enforcement mechanism is also available.
  • The rule applies to all U.S. air carriers providing commercial air transportation. ‘Indirect’ air carriers (e.g. charter operators) are not covered by certain provisions that concern the direct provision of air transportation services.
  • Carriers must obtain an assurance of compliance from contractors who provide services to passengers.

For a more detailed description of this rule, see DOT’s booklet New Horizons: Information for the Air Traveler with a Disability.



Additional information may be obtained by contacting

Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings
400 Seventh Street, SW, Room 4107
Washington, DC 20590



In the recent past, travelers with SCI faced many obstacles. Architectural barriers and unenlightened attitudes prevented many people with disabilities from traveling with ease. The desire to travel was still alive, yet the potential for negative experiences made staying close to home the safest option.

Fortunately, the passage of laws such as the ADA and ACAA have dramatically improved travel options. Additionally, the travel industry is slowly recognizing that the disability community is a formidable market, with billions of dollars in expendable income. These factors mean that individuals with SCI and other disabilities can travel with confidence.

Some Specifics

  • Air: All airlines are mandated by law to be wheelchair accessible. Wheelchair travelers are entitled to all the comforts and accommodations of non-wheelchair travelers. Assistance boarding and exiting the plane, as well as proper storage of your wheelchair, should be arranged prior to departure. Each airline may have slightly different procedures, so be sure to call ahead.

  • Bus: Greyhound and Peerless bus lines are accessible to wheelchair travelers. Reservations need to be made 48 hours in advance, but four to seven days is preferred. Once reservations are made, the disabled services department needs to be informed of your intent to travel. Companions or attendants often travel free of charge.

  • Trains: Each train is mandated to have at least four available accessible compartments. The rooms are bigger and have larger bathrooms. Accessible compartments sleep two. If the dining car is on the second deck, order service to the room.

  • Cruises: Cabins are larger and all decks are wheelchair friendly. Check with individual cruise lines.

Many resources are available in local communities; check your telephone directories, ask friends for resources, and ask at Support Group meetings for good experiences with various travel agencies. Today, the Internet provides a burgeoning number of resources. A couple of general addresses for more information over the Web are or 

AAA Motor Club - Chicago - Ask for "Travel Healthy, Travel Happy" brochure. If cruising, ask your travel agent to obtain a copy of the cruise line's information sheet regarding traveling with disabilities.

Access-Able Travel Source - offers a free newsletter and a collection of resources and travel tips.

Access America, atlas and guide to national parks, Northern Cartographic Mapping and Publishing, Dept. AA, P.O. Box 133, Burlington, VT 05402.

Access to the Skies Newsletter, published quarterly by the Paralyzed Veterans of America for the Paralysis Society of America. Contact Access to the Skies, 801 Eighteenth Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20006 (202) 872-1300.

Access to Travel Magazine, PO Box 352, New Baltimore, NY 12124.

The Air Carrier Access Act: Make It Work For You brochure, published by the Paralyzed Veterans of America, 801 Eighteenth Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20006 (202) 872-1300.

The Americans with Disabilities Act: Your Personal Guide to the Law brochure, published by the Paralyzed Veterans of America, 801 Eighteenth Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20006 (202) 872-1300.

The Directory of Travel Agencies for the Disabled, Disability Bookshop, PO Box 129, Vancouver, WA 98666-0129 (800) 637-2256,
(206) 694-2462 (also available on cassette).

Exceptional Vacations L.L.C., 3711 NW 4th Ave., Pompano Beach, FL 33064
954-781-0990 - 954-781-4157 Fax

Foundation for Accessibility by the Disabled, Box 356, Malyerne, NY 11565 (516) 887-5798.

Handicapped in Walt Disney World: A Guide for Everyone, by Peter Smith (Southpark, $10.95)

Handicapped Travel Newsletter, published six times a year, $10.00 per year; contact Dr. Michael Quigley, PO Box Drawer 29, Athens, TX 75751.

Hawaii - Commission on Persons with Disabilities, 915 Ala Moana Blvd. (ground floor), Honolulu, Hawaii 96813, (808) 548-7606 (Voice/TDD)

Life Center at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago - Lists travel companies specializing in providing services to the disabled.

Medical Travel Inc,. The Disability Travel Experts, 16555 White Orchid Lane * Delray Beach, Florida 33446
Telephone: (800) 778-7953 * Office: (561) 921-0496 * Fax: (561) 921-0009


Mobility International, Box 3551, Eugene Ore, OR 97403, (503) 343-1284.

Mobility International Educational Exchange and Travel, $20.00 per year; contact Suzanne Shelley, MIUSA, PO Box 10767, Eugene, OR 97440.

National Directory, facilities for disabled in many cities, (800) 365-1220.

National Park Service Office on Accessibility, Box 37127, Washington, DC 20013 (202) 343-3674.

New Horizons for the Air Traveler with a Disability brochure, Department of Transportation, Aviation Consumer Protection Division C-75, P-10, Room 9222, 400 7th Street SW, Washington, DC 20590, (202) 366-2220, (202) 755-7687 (TT).

Planet Mobility , (866) Go-LIFTS, (866) 465-4387, Office: (586) 677-6363, Fax: (586) 677-6379

RADAR (Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation) 25 Mortimer Street, London W1N 8ABS England.

SATH (Society for the Advancement of Travel for the Handicapped) 347 5th Avenue, Suite 610, New York, NY 10016.

Society for Accessible Travel & Hopitality - (800) 513-1126 - This website gives dozens of contract for all types of situations and limitations. 347 Fifth Avenue, Suite 610, New York, NY 10016 (212) 447-7284.

Travel Industry and Disabled Exchange, 5435 Donna Avenue, Tarzana, CA 91356.

Travel Information Service, Moss Rehabilitation Hospital, 12th Street & Tabor Road, Philadelphia, PA 19141 (215) 329-5715.

Travel Traders Unlimited, Contact Barbara McDermott at for literature and information for those traveling with special needs. Home: 414-258-0926; Office: 262-238-8800; Toll Free: 1-800-747-1708; Fax: 262-238-8801.

Traveling Talk Newsletter, Network and Directory, contact Rick Crowder, PO Box 3534, Clarksville, TN 37043.

The United States The Department of Transportation, Office of Regulatory Affairs, P-10, Room 9222, 400 7th St. S.W., Washington, D.C. 20590, (800) 778-4838 (6a.m. to 10 p.m. Central Time) - Provides one of the most important sources for anyone flying with a disability "New Horizons: Information for the Air Traveler With a Disability. ALSO, the DOT has created a new Aviation Disability Hotline that collects complaint information 24/7 and is staffed from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. (Eastern time). (866) 266-1368 (voice) and (866) 754-4368 (TTY). FLY Rights is another publication the US DOT offers for Airline Access information. (202) 366-2220

Wheels & Waves, published by Wheels Aweigh Publishing Co., 17105 San Carlos Boulevard, Suite #1-6107, Fort Myers Beach, FL 33931, (800) 637-2256 or (800) 247-6553. 

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