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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Langevin amendment bolsters rights of handicapped air travelers

House passes funding bill with amendment by overwhelming majority

Related imageCongressman Jim Langevin (D-RI), co-chair of the Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus, voted to strengthen the rights of airline passengers, including those with disabilities, and to continue to improve air safety.

His vote in favor of HR 4, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018, followed adoption yesterday of his amendment to require the Department of Transportation to review regulations issued under the landmark Air Carrier Access Act of 1986, which prevents discrimination against disabled air travelers. 

The bill passed by a vote of 393-13.

“As Rhode Islanders well know, air travel is a means to explore destinations around the country and the world, and it is also a vital economic engine bringing visitors to our beautiful state,” said Langevin. “However, flying is not always a pain-free experience. The consumer protections at the heart of this bill will ensure that passengers’ rights are prioritized.”

Central to the consumer protections in the bill are requirements setting minimum sizes for aircraft seats, prohibiting passengers from being bumped once seated, and ensuring airlines are transparent about their compensation policies for delays, lost luggage, and overbooking.

The legislation also makes several changes to improve the accessibility of air travel, including a bill of rights for passengers with disabilities, and other provisions based on Langevin’s Air Carrier Access Amendments Act.

During floor debate, the House adopted an amendment authored by Langevin requiring a review of the training provided to airport and airline personnel who assist individuals with disabilities.

“I am proud that this bill makes substantial progress in expanding the rights of all Americans to travel with dignity,” continued Langevin. 

“As someone who knows firsthand the challenges of flying with a disability, it is important that we have a modern framework to prevent discrimination. Air carriers have made substantial progress since the 1980s, but with over 30,000 complaints still being filed annually, we have a ways to go before we can achieve the goal of truly equal access to the skies.”

Beyond expanding the rights of passengers, the bill reauthorizes FAA programs for five years. Importantly, it does not carry forward a provision from previous drafts that would have privatized the air traffic control system.

The bill flat funds the Airport Improvement Program and includes a title related to better integrating unmanned aerial systems (UAS, also known as “drones”) into US airspace.

“Providing certainty through this long-term authorization is very important, and it highlights the progress Republicans and Democrats can make we set aside partisan differences and work together,” said Langevin.

“However, I do believe we can do more to invest in our critical aviation infrastructure. Rhode Islanders have seen the benefits of expanding service at TF Green Airport, and funding from the FAA has been an important part of our improvement projects. I also hope the Senate will take a more robust view toward drone regulation by including the bill Senator Whitehouse and I introduced to provide clear criminal penalties for recklessly operating drones in a way that endangers safety.”

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration. FAA programs are currently slated to expire on September 30, 2018.