U.S. Air Carrier Access Act

A Delta Airlines airbus in flight across a blue sky

The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 (ACAA) prohibits discrimination in air transportation by domestic and foreign air carriers against qualified individuals with physical or mental impairments. It applies only to air carriers that provide regularly scheduled services for hire to the public. The ACAA establishes standards concerning a wide range of issues including boarding assistance, certain accessibility features in newly built aircraft, and new or altered airport facilities.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has the authority to enact regulations and enforce the ACAA, and has also issued guidance on the potential overlapping obligations of the ACAA, ADA, and Section 504. People with disabilities may enforce their rights under the Air Carrier Access Act by filing a complaint with DOT. For many years after the law was first enacted, courts interpreted the law as implicitly providing a private right of action that allowed individuals with disabilities to pursue their ACAA rights by filing a private lawsuit in federal court. However, a U.S. Supreme Court decision unrelated to air travel led most courts to the conclusion that the ACAA did not contain a private right of action because it did not explicitly include one, or at best, a private right of action could only be pursued after exhausting the DOT administrative process. The disability community and advocates have made attempts over the last several years to amend the law to include a private right of action.