Airlines could face more fines for mishandling wheelchairs under a Biden administration proposal

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Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. misplace / mɪsˈpleɪs / (v.) – to lose something for a short time by forgetting where it was left or put

    I keep misplacing my keys. It’s so annoying.

  2. violation / ˌvaɪ əˈleɪ ʃən / (n.) – an action that’s not allowed by a law, rule, agreement, etc.

    Unpaid overtime is a violation of our company policy.

  3. brief / brif / (v.) – to give information or instructions to someone

    The manager briefed the sales department members about their targets and strategies for this year.

  4. incentive / ɪnˈsɛn tɪv / (n.) – something, especially money, that encourages a person or organization to do something or to work harder

    The company will give a cash incentive to any sales staff who achieves more than the sales target.

  5. accessibility / ækˌsɛs əˈbɪl ə ti / (n.) – the quality of being able to be used by everyone, including people who have a disability

    The company decided to install elevators to improve the building’s accessibility.


Read the text below.

The Biden administration is proposing to make it easier for the government to fine airlines for damaging or misplacing wheelchairs by making it an automatic violation of a federal law on accessible air travel.

The U.S. Transportation Department also called for airlines to provide annual training for employees who handle wheelchairs or lift passengers with disabilities.

Damage to wheelchairs and scooters during air travel is a big problem. The Transportation Department said 11,527 of the devices were mishandled by airlines last year, up slightly from 2022.

The administration announced the proposed rule during a White House event that included advocates for people with disabilities. There will be a 60-day period for public comment on the proposed rule. It’s not clear, however, when or if the proposal will ever become final. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg declined to provide a timetable when he briefed reporters.

Under the proposal, it would be easier for the Transportation Department to fine airlines up to roughly $125,000 if they damage a wheelchair or delay its return to the passenger at the end of a flight. The proposal would give passengers the right to use their preferred vendor to repair or replace a damaged wheelchair—airlines are already required to cover the cost.

Buttigieg called the proposal the biggest expansion of rights for passengers who use a wheelchair since 2008. He said airlines need stronger financial incentives to treat disabled passengers with dignity.

The large number of damaged wheelchairs “reflects a culture where this is just treated as part of doing business,” he said. “There is going to be this risk that if something happens to your chair, and that’s too bad.”

Airlines for America, a trade group for the largest U.S. carriers, said airlines are working with the government and disability groups to reduce barriers to flying, said its member airlines have increased employee training, set up passenger-accessibility advisory groups and supported the development of accessibility improvements since signing a commitment in October 2022.

“U.S. airlines are committed to offering a high level of customer service and providing a positive and safe flight experience for passengers with disabilities,” said Hannah Walden, a spokeswoman for the group.

This article was provided by The Associated Press.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • Damage to wheelchairs and scooters during air travel is a big problem, so the Biden Administration is proposing fines and violations. Do you think this problem also exists in other countries? What about in your country? Why do you think this is a big problem during air travel? Discuss.
  • How do you think stricter regulations and fines could impact the way airlines handle wheelchairs and other devices, and provide assistance to passengers with disabilities? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • Why do you think it’s important for businesses, such as airlines, to have employees who are well-trained in assisting customers with disabilities? How do you think airlines can further improve accessibility and service quality? Discuss.
  • In your country, how do different businesses ensure accessibility and good service quality, especially for customers with disabilities (ex. they provide wheelchairs, they have special lanes/seats for customers with disabilities)? Are you satisfied with businesses’ accessibility and service quality, especially for customers with disabilities? Why or why not? Discuss.