Delta, United Airlines make accessibility improvements for passengers

Major U.S. airlines are continuously looking for ways to make air travel as easy as possible for passengers.

It’s a competitive industry, so offering convenience and efficiency as incentives to entice repeat customers is an important component of doing business.

Related: American Airlines says it now has ‘something no one else offers’

For example, airlines have implemented technology improvements such as self-service kiosks that allow passengers to check in and print boarding passes without the involvement of an agent.

Mobile apps developed by airlines are also used by passengers to book flights, check in and get updates on the status of their flights.

While travelers are in the air, some are offered more comfortable seating options, such as premium economy seats with extra legroom and seats that lie flat in business class.

Entertainment options have also improved over the years, as passengers are provided access to a wide selection of movies, television shows and music.

And airlines are also making larger commitments to passengers with disabilities.

Accessibility and inclusion for all travelers

At the International Air Transport Association (IATA) annual meeting in 2019, the organization adopted a resolution that affirmed member airlines’ commitment to safe, reliable and dignified travel for people with disabilities.

During the summer of 2023, two airlines announced major steps along these lines.

Delta Air Lines  (DAL) – Get Free Report announced in June that a subsidiary of the company was developing a seat that would allow passengers in power wheelchairs to stay in them during flights.

In July, United Airlines  (UAL) – Get Free Report said it would be the first airline to add braille to its aircraft interiors. This would include markings for rows, seat numbers and the inside and outside of lavatories.

“It is good, then, to know that Delta and United are adding one more layer of accessibility to their operations to make it that much easier for passengers to find and use their seats and for cabin crews to support them throughout their trip,” wrote aviation expert John McDermott on Airline Geeks Aug. 21. 

The article was titled “Accessibility is coming to aviation. It’s about time.”

“It is not unwise to hope and expect that other airlines will follow their leads or continue to innovate for the betterment of the traveling public,” he added.

McDermott also provided some further information on when these changes can be expected to be implemented.

“Neither of these changes will be immediate. It will take at least 18 months for Delta’s seat to enter service assuming it passes testing on time, while United won’t be able to retrofit all of its aircraft until 2026,” he wrote. “Still, these moves represent a major step forward for disabled passengers in the United States.”

United Airlines aircraft flying above clouds.


Legislation on aviation accessibility is introduced

The actions from Delta and United occurred soon after a key piece of legislation was announced.

“In spring 2023, Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) announced the Mobility Aids on Board Improve Lives and Empower All Act, otherwise known as the MOBILE Act, which would require the Department of Transportation to publicly report the type of damage that occurs to wheelchairs and mobility aids,” McDermott wrote. “It would also require airlines to provide sufficient information to passengers to make sure mobility aids can fit on an aircraft before boarding.”

Calls for more airline accountability and accessibility to be included in the next Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization act, currently being written, have also been made.

“For passengers who use wheelchairs, traveling can oftentimes be difficult and frustrating,” Sen. Thune said regarding the MOBILE Act, according to McDermott. “I’m proud to join Senator Duckworth in introducing this common-sense legislation that would improve safety and accessibility for individuals who use mobility aids to help ensure their travel experience is as smooth and hassle-free as possible.”

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