The times they are a changing. And although change can sometimes be a bit unnerving; in many cases it's also a very positive thing. Such is the case with the huge changes we've seen in accessible travel over the past 20 years. And the good news is, there's more to come. In fact, the world is about to become a much more accessible place for disabled travelers, thanks to a few new access laws.
ACAA Goes Global
On May 13, 2009, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) officially went global. What does this mean to disabled travelers? Simply put, they now have more choices.
For over 20 years the ACAA has been the law of the land in the U.S. as far as accessible air travel is concerned. Unfortunately, this law was largely unenforceable beyond U.S. borders. The good news is, the updated law extends coverage to all commercial flights to and from the U.S., including those operated by foreign air carriers. This means that these covered foreign flights must abide by the same access laws that apply to U.S. air carriers. Additionally, foreign air carriers can no longer deny boarding to disabled passengers on flights to or from the U.S. And for what it's worth, denied boarding was a huge problem.
In the past, disabled travelers were cautioned to avoid non-U.S. air carriers because of this lack of legal protection. Today, if a foreign carrier offers a better deal between the U.S. and another destination, disabled travelers can freely take advantage of that deal, and rest assured they will be protected by the ACAA.
Free Attendant Airfare
Wouldn't it be great if your attendant could fly for free? Well, in some cases that's now possible, thanks to the implementation of Canada's One-Person One Fare regulation, earlier this year.
Under the new regulation, passengers defined as "people with severe disabilities" may qualify for free attendant airfare on Canadian domestic flights. The attendant must be needed for the passenger's in-flight personal care or safety, "as required by the carriers' domestic tarrifs." Additionally, it does not apply to passengers who prefer to travel with a companion, or those who only require attendant care at their destination
Still it effects a good number of people. If you think you may qualify for it, contact Air Canada or WestJet directly for specific booking procedures.
It should also be noted that this is the first regulation of it's kind, anywhere in the world. Although it only effects Canadian flights, it's not inconceivable that other countries could adopt a similar regulation. In short, it may be the start of something very big.
Hotels.com Access Upgrade
And speaking of precedent-setting, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the settlement agreement in Smith Vs. Hotels.com. Currently it's almost impossible to reserve an accessible room with this major hotel consolidator, as reservations for accessible rooms are treated only as requests. That's all set to change in September 2009, when this landmark settlement goes into effect.
Under the terms of the agreement, Hotels.com and Expedia will include access details about rooms on their website. Additionally, most travelers will be able to reserve an accessible room online. It won't exactly be a point, click and book option, but a trained customer service representative will work with each disabled customer to make sure an accessible room that meets their needs is reserved.
Additionally, this settlement may influence the U.S. Department of Justice as they update the guidelines on hotel accessibility. This voluntary agreement could very well become the law of the land. After all, in this precedent-setting year, anything is possible.
Candy Harrington is the editor of Emerging Horizons and the author of 101 Accessible Vacations; Travel Ideas for Wheelers and Slow Walkers. She blogs regularly about accessible travel issues at www.barrierfreetravels.com.