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Flying The Friendly Skies: Delta’s Effort To Accommodate Travelers with Disabilities

deltaWhile much has been said in the past about the wrongs and woes that travelers experience while flying, very little is shared in a public forum about the steps that commercial airlines are taking to improve accessibility for their customers with disabilities.  Perhaps it’s easier to focus on the negative, especially during the frustrations that can arise with any commuter flight due to weather, mechanical issues or other airport issues.  That’s why Wheel:Life is taking a moment to share a positive glimpse at the strides one airline in particular is making to improve your travel experience.

Delta Airlines has been helping people with disabilities take flight for over 70 years, but they have encountered some turbulence along the way.  In 2011, the company was fined $2 million by the U.S. government for accessibility issues and related violations involving disabled travelers.

[In the interest of full disclosure, Delta isn’t the only airline that has been fined by the government for accessibility issues. Also in 2011, AirTran Airways was fined $500,000, JetBlue Airways was fined $600,000 and Minnesota-based Mesaba Aviation was fined $125,000 for violations related to disabled passengers. Since 2008, the U.S. Department of Transportation has fined 11 other airlines for practices against disabled passengers.]

Since then, Delta has doubled their efforts to focus on accommodating the needs of all of their passengers.  This isn’t simply a public relations effort on Delta’s behalf. Every airline is required by the Air Carrier Access Act to accommodate the needs of passengers with disabilities, as the act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in air travel.

Delta employees are trained to use specific, appropriate words when working with customers.

Delta employees are trained to use specific, appropriate words when working with customers.

A variety of new programs for both Delta employees and passengers have been put in place to improve travel services for the disabled community. Delta agreed to spend $1.25 million on various internal system improvements, including an automated wheelchair tracking system, a customer satisfaction survey and better compliance auditing.

Delta also agreed to install more elevators and allow customers to specify the type of wheelchair help they need when buying a ticket on the airline’s website. The airline is also installing additional ramps for boarding regional flights. The automated wheelchair tracking system will be installed at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the carrier’s other major hubs.

Additionally, the University of Kansas and Delta Air Lines are currently collaborating to improve the flying experience of people with disabilities. In the video interview below, David S. Martin, Delta Air Line’s Disability Program Manager, discusses his work with Glen W. White, PhD, the Director of the University of Kansas Research & Training Center on Independent Living. Their new project gathers feedback from passengers with disabilities to improve the airline’s policies, practices and procedures.

Every October, Delta also requires its’ employees to attend continuing education courses on serving customers with disabilities.  Below is a message that Delta Air Lines VP Greg Kennedy shared with Delta employees regarding the importance of Disability Awareness training:

Delta’s employee training programs on disability awareness, along with other internal procedures for serving disabled customers, are guided in part by Delta’s Customer Advisory Board on Disability. This board promotes accessibility for all customers, and is comprised of experienced educators and clinicians who work in the disability field.   Board members include:

  • Shanti Aaron; Georgia Department of Labor
  • Lydia Graber; Michigan Commission on Disability Concerns (MCDC)
  • J. R. Harding, Ph.D; Agency for People with Disabilities
  • Michael Harris; Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA)
  • Minna Hong; Shepherd Center
  • Patrick Maher; National Spinal Cord Injury Association (NSCIA)
  • David Nelson; National Association of the Deaf (NAD)
  • Grover Evans, Ph.D; Evans & Associates of Arkansas
  • Jay Stiteley; The Seeing Eye
  • Glen W. White, Ph.D; RTC/IL University of Kansas
  • Michell Haase; Travelin’Wheels, LLC
  • Catherine Graham; University of South Carolina – School of Medicine
  • Carol Gray; Gray Center for Social Learning & Understanding
Going through security isn't fun for anyone, but Delta provides tips to make the process easier for you.

Going through security isn’t fun for anyone, but Delta provides tips to make the process easier for you.

How Delta’s Internal Focus on Accessibility Helps You
As a result of their efforts to improve services for travellers of all abilities, Delta has specially trained personnel called Complaint Resolution Officials (CROs) at every airport who are empowered to address concerns of any customer with a disability. CROs ensure federal regulations and Delta policies and procedures are properly implemented. You may ask to speak to a CRO and a representative will come to you while at the airport.

deltajpg-d85a3ab21299605bHow You Can Help Delta Better Serve You
Don’t assume anything. The more information Delta or your chosen airline has about your needed services and equipment, the better they can work out a plan to make your trip stress free.

There is no fee to transport a service or emotional support animal on Delta’s domestic system and many of their international destinations.  However, some destinations may have restrictions on bringing animals into their countries, so it is best to check ahead of time before making any travel plans that include service animal accompaniment.

For example, Hawaii, Great Britain and others, have quarantine laws for animals, or may not permit their entry.  Delta Reservations or your travel agent can help you learn the requirements for your destination.

If you are traveling with a wheelchair, let the airline know:

  • Dimensions – Height x Width x Depth
  • Weight – (estimated weight okay)
  • Disconnection instructions
  • Battery type (wet, dry, gel, lithium ion, etc.)

Delta Videos That May Further Assist Your Travel Planning
A series of travel assistance videos have been developed by Delta in collaboration with Atlanta’s Shepherd Center and the Delta Advisory Board on Disability to provide useful reference tools for passengers with disabilities.  These videos cover the topics of:

  • Making Reservations, Advance Notice Check-In, CRO Program and Curb Check-In
  • Navigating Security
  • At the Gate, Carry On Process, and Mechanical Lift
  • Checking Assistive Devices and Retrieval of Assistive Devices

disabledticketDelta’s website provides detailed information on services for travellers with special needs, see it at:

For complete information about the services Delta provides for individuals with disabilities, download their free brochure,Traveling with Disabilities.

To learn more about your rights as a traveller with disabilities, access the Department of Transportation regulations on Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel (PDF)

Download Discovering: Accessible US Travel Guide for Wheelchair Users

Discovering-Coverlowres240x240In this book, you’ll discover a state-by-state directory of accessible travel destinations across the United States.

These accessible travel suggestions are part of the Get Out & Enjoy Life [GOEL] program that is a joint educational initiative between Wheel:Life, a global community of wheelchair users, and SPORTS ‘N SPOKES magazine, published by the Paralyzed Veterans of America.

More than 70,000 wheelchair users from 108 countries took part in Wheel:Life resources in 2014.

You’ll find that each chapter of this book provides easily-accessible destinations that are fun and engaging for friends who use wheelchairs. Discovering is an easy, encouraging read that will help you explore all kinds of travel destinations and family fun spots, whether you are new to using a wheelchair or a seasoned pro.

Please note that not every state in the US is featured in this travel guide, just the ones that we have included in our GOEL program to date.


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