November 2013 was an important month for the travel industry as the Final Rule for the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) was implemented and the formation of the Rail Vehicles Access Advisory Committee was approved by the Access Board.
So what does that mean to your external facing IT Portfolios?
On November 12, 2013, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) published in the Federal Register a final rule that amends its rules implementing the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) to require U.S. air carriers and foreign air carriers to make their Web sites that market air transportation to the general public in the United States accessible to individuals with disabilities. In addition, DOT is amending its rule that prohibits unfair and deceptive practices and unfair methods of competition to require ticket agents that are not small businesses to disclose and offer Web-based fares to passengers who indicate that they are unable to use the agents’ Web sites due to a disability.
The amendment applies to:
- All domestic and foreign airlines operating at least one airplane with a seating capacity of more than 60 passengers, serving U.S. passengers.
- Domestic and foreign airlines that have more than 10,000 passengers.
- Ticket Agents that are not small businesses (including travel websites such as such as Kayak.com, cheaptickets.com, airlineconsolidator.com, cheapoair.com, orbitz.com).
Complying with the Air Carrier Access Act Accessibility Amendment
The amendment lays out a two-phase compliance schedule for domestic and foreign airlines.
Compliance Schedule for Air Carrier Access Act
Phase 1: All “Core functions” must be WCAG 2.0 Level A and AA compliant by December 12, 2015. Core functions are defined as:
- Booking or changing a reservation (including all flight amenities)
- Checking-in for a flight
- Accessing a personal travel itinerary
- Accessing the status of a flight
- Accessing a personal frequent flyer account
- Accessing flight schedules
- Accessing carrier contact information.
Online Disability Accommodation Requests
Requires carriers to make an online service request form available within two years of the rule’s effective date to passengers with disabilities to request services including, but not limited to, wheelchair assistance, seating accommodation, escort assistance for a visually impaired passenger, and stowage for an assistive device.
Phase 2: All remaining pages must be made compliant by December 16, 2016.
Accessibility Requirements for Air Carrier Access Act
Please Note: A carrier’s “text-only” version of a web page may only be considered an accessible alternative if it provides the same content and functionality as the corresponding non-text version, and can be reached via an accessible link from the primary site. The “text-only” version must conform to WCAG 2.0 Level A and AA guidelines and must promptly and regularly updated.
In addition, domestic and foreign airlines exceeding 10,000 passengers must ensure accessibility of all kiosks installed after December 12, 2016, and 25% of kiosks in each location must meet the specified accessibility standards by December 12, 2021.
Finally, Ticket Agents that are not small businesses must accessibly disclose and offer web-based fares on or after June 14, 2014
What is the risk for non-compliance?
The ACCA is known for imposing some extremely large fines, as witnessed by a $50,000.00 fine assed to Frontier Airlines for compliance failure. If you take into account that domestic carriers alone received almost 19,000 complaints as reported in the 2012 annual report on Complaints Received by Airlines in 2011 and you have a recipe for a fairly large risk to the business. I would imagine that now electronic forms must be put in place on every Travel website and new amendments to include IT the number of complaint will increase.
The Department’s Enforcement Office stated that it intends to audit carriers as it deems necessary in the future to ensure accurate reporting. In 2009, 2010 and 2011, the Enforcement Office conducted a number of on-site investigations, which involved reviewing carrier records to, among other things, verify the accuracy of the carrier’s disability reporting.
In May 2010, one carrier was fined $100,000 for undercounting Disability-related complaints and in February of 2011, one carrier was fined $2.0 million for violating numerous provisions of the ACAA regulation, including undercounting disability related complaints. Four other carriers have been assessed civil penalties in cases that in part involved similar kinds of violations. The Department’s Enforcement Office also investigates each disability-related complaint filed directly with DOT’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division.