The east side of the US Capitol in the early morning. Senate Chamber in foreground.

Our Amazing Opportunity to Improve Air Travel: 5 Things You Need to Know

From broken bones to broken wheelchairs, we know traveling by air can be a nightmare for people living with a disability. However, MDA and its grassroots advocates have a unique opportunity to finally pass meaningful legislation during this year. We sat down with MDA’s Director of Disability Policy, Michael Lewis, to get the latest on improving air travel.

MDA and its advocates have been working on improving air travel for a long time. Why is this year so important?

This year, Congress must reauthorize the Federal Aviation Act (FAA) by September 30.  Originally enacted in 1958 after a series of deadly airline crashes, the Act created the Federal Aviation Administration and gave it the authority to oversee and regulate the airline industry, as well as the use of American airspace by both military and civilian aircrafts.

The 2023 reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Act is a must-pass bill; meaning if it doesn’t pass,  nobody can fly.  This reauthorization is a  great vehicle to enact significant changes to make air travel more accessible for people with disabilities.

What are MDA’s main priorities as we’re trying to reauthorize the FAA?

MDA is advocating hard to ensure that any FAA reauthorization bill include provisions to make air travel as accessible as possible.  Our priorities include:

  • Requiring the Department of Transportation (DOT) to oversee standardized, hands-on training of flight crew members, baggage handlers, and ramp agents
  • Requiring regular maintenance and inspection of onboard wheelchairs
  • Requiring the Secretary of Transportation to formulate disability access standards for aircraft.
  • Requiring airlines to provide wheelchair users with more information on cargo hold size restrictions and access to alternative flights, if needed, at no additional cost to accommodate their assistive device.
  • Requiring consideration of the needs of people with disabilities in aircraft evacuation standards.
  • Amending the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) by including the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act (H.R. 1267/S. 545), which would improve airplane design, and allow people to sue airlines for equipment damages and injuries.
  • Requiring DOT to continue investigating the feasibility of allowing passengers to remain seated in wheelchairs by using in-cabin wheelchair restraint systems
  • Allowing DOT to assess up to three times allowable civil penalties for all ACAA violations

What sort of activities are MDA advocates doing this year to improve air travel?

MDA Advocacy staff have been meeting with members of both the US House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure as well as the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation (the two committees with jurisdiction over any FAA reauthorization legislation) to stress the need for accessible air travel.

Additionally, MDA will be hosting several advocates from around the country for an in-person Hill Day, May 9-11, to meet with key Members of Congress about the need for accessibility provisions in the 2023 FAA reauthorization.

Finally, MDA advocates have been relentless in urging their members of Congress to improve air travel. You can add your voice too by going to

We talk a lot of about what Congress can do, but is there anything the Department of Transportation is doing to improve air travel?

Absolutely!  The Air Carrier Access Act, originally enacted in 1986, directs the Department of Transportation to develop and issue rules and regulations to make air travel more accessible.  Secretary Pete Buttigieg has said that improving the accessibility of air travel is a top priority, and the Department is expected to issue final rules soon to require accessible lavatories on single-aisle aircraft, and to impose fines on airlines for breaking or damaging wheelchairs.

However, regulations can change with presidential administrations, so putting accessibility requirements in law ensures that they are far less likely to be diluted when a new administration comes into office.

How can others get involved?

The most effective way to advocate for accessible air travel is to stay in touch with your members of Congress and share your personal story about how inaccessible air travel has impacted you!  Personal stories about the real-world impacts of policy (or lack thereof) are extremely powerful and persuasive.

In the coming weeks, Congress will begin the process of passing 2023 FAA Reauthorization bill, and we invite everyone to urge their Representatives and Senators to support making air travel accessible for all by going to

Next Steps and Useful Resources

Disclaimer: No content on this site should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.