Air Carrier Access Act

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) is an act which prevents public airlines from discriminating against individuals based on disabilities.  ACAA also requires air carriers to accommodate the needs of passengers with disabilities.  ACAA is cited in 49 USCS § 41705.  ACAA was enacted in the year 1986.

In Americans Disabled for Accessible Transp. v. Skywest Airlines, Inc., 1990 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18683 (D. Utah 1990), the court observed that “the prohibition against discrimination contained in the Air Carrier Access Act is stated simply: no air carrier may discriminate against any otherwise qualified handicapped individual, by reason of such handicap, in the provision of air transportation.”

The regulations notified in connection with ACAA explain that it requires air carriers[i]:

  • to provide services and benefits without discrimination on the basis of disability; and
  • to provide disabled individuals with certain services, equipment, or assistance.

 

The regulations further require that air carriers must make certain physical adjustments for handicapped persons such as movable armrests, accessible lavatories, and priority space for wheelchairs.  ACAA also prohibits certain conduct on the part of a carrier, such as limiting the number of handicapped persons on a flight, or requiring advance notice that a handicapped person is traveling.  Further, carriers may not require a handicapped person to travel with an attendant, except in certain limited circumstances.  And, if the handicapped person disagrees with the carrier’s assessment regarding the need for an attendant, the carrier cannot charge for the attendant’s transportation.

In addition, each carrier must establish programs to train its personnel and must designate a complaints resolution official.  Each carrier has 180 days to establish and implement a written program containing its schedule for training its personnel, and its policies and procedures for accommodating handicapped passengers[ii].

An inquiry into whether ACAA implicitly authorizes a private cause of action must focus on Congressional intent at the time when ACAA was enacted.  The four factors relevant in determining the Congressional intent regarding private remedies under ACAA are[iii]:

  • Whether the plaintiff belongs to the class for whose special benefit the statute was enacted?
  • Whether there is any indication of legislative intent, explicit or implicit, either to create such a remedy or to deny one?
  • Whether it is consistent with the underlying purposes of the legislative scheme to imply such a remedy for the plaintiff? And
  • Whether the cause of action is one traditionally referred to state law, in an area which is basically the concern of the states, so that it would be inappropriate to infer a cause of action based solely on federal law?

 

Generally, ACAA allows recovery of compensatory damages, including damages for emotional distress.  However, because ACAA is in pari materia with the Rehabilitation Act, the same remedies for both acts are excluded, taking into account the Congressional intent[iv].

[i] Deterra v. Am. W. Airlines, 226 F. Supp. 2d 298 (D. Mass. 2002).

[ii] 14 CFR 382.63.

[iii] Anderson v. USAir, Inc., 818 F.2d 49 (D.C. Cir. 1987).

[iv] Id.


Inside Air Carrier Access Act