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DOT issues guideline to improve travel for those with disabilities

September 09, 2015

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has issued a new guide detailing rules for air carriers accommodating families and individuals with autism.

The Air Carrier Access Act details rules for airline accommodations and protects individuals with disabilities in air travel.

For many families and individuals with autism, traveling requires certain accommodations from the airline industry to provide safe, comfortable flight. For example, the guideline explains that airlines must provide accurate information about what accommodations they can provide individuals with disabilities. It also suggests informing the airline how it may assist you. The airline may be able to provide health, safety, dietary, or sensory accommodations to make travel easier. 

In May, a 15-year-old with autism and her family were allegedly removed from a United Airlines flight after experiencing difficulties in accessing needed accommodations. The guideline details when an airline may deny boarding or remove a passenger with a disability.

The guide clarifies federal guidelines, stating that an airline may deny boarding or remove a passenger with a disability if they believe the individual “poses a significant risk to the health or safety of others; and if the risk cannot be eliminated by a modification or policies, practices, or procedures, or by the provision of auxiliary aids or services”. Airlines cannot assume a risk based on a person’s autism or other developmental disability diagnosis.  

The guidance focuses on preparation ahead of travel and recommendations for communicating with the airline to ensure proper accommodations will be accessible.

Since 2013, Autism Speaks has partnered with JetBlue Airways to host Blue Horizons for Autism events across the country that provide families in the autism community with the opportunity to walk through the airport experience in the most realistic setting to better prepare them for future travel. To date, there have been six Blue Horizons events hosted by JetBlue and Autism Speaks and several are planned for this fall.


Autism Speaks has also developed Adventures in Autism: A Guide to the Airport Experience, a fun and informative teaching story to help prepare individuals with autism for the air travel experience. Find other air travel resources from Autism Speaks here.

For additional resources, contact the Autism Speaks Autism Response Team at or by calling (888) 288-8762. To get involved with Autism Speaks advocacy efforts sign up for Autism Votes HERE and follow us on Twitter at @AutismVotes.