Airlines face new regulations for disabled fliers

Transportation Department regulations unveiled Monday will require airlines to update their websites and airport kiosks to better accommodate the disabled, and set out new policies for stowing wheelchairs.

The new rules, to be enacted under the 1986 Air Carrier Access Act, will begin to take effect within six months after they are published in the Federal Register, though airlines will have years to implement some of the changes.

“All air travelers should be treated fairly when they fly, regardless of any disabilities they may have,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement issued by the agency.

U.S. airlines and foreign carriers that market to American travelers must make their websites accessible to disabled people within three years. Portions of the sites containing core travel information and services must meet the new standards within two years, under the new regulations.

The rules also extend to ticket agents, who must begin to disclose and offer web-based discount fares to customers who are unable to use their sites due to a disability. That provision is slated to take effect within 180 days.

A quarter of U.S. airport kiosks that offer automated services– including baggage tagging and boarding pass printing – must be upgraded for disabled access within ten years.

The regulations allow airlines to choose between stowing wheelchairs in plane compartments, or strapping them across a row of seats. The strapping method was prohibited under regulations issued in 2008, but the agency changed its position after a review of the costs and benefits involved.