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73 FR 27614, May 13, 2008, as modified by Correction Notice of 74 FR 11469,

    March 18, 2009. This document includes the modifications from the Correction Notice.

DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

14 CFR Part 382

[Dockets OST200419482; OST200522298; OST200623999]

[RINs 2105AC97; 2105AC29; 2105AD41]

Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel

AGENCY: Department of Transportation, Office of the Secretary

ACTION: Final Rule

    SUMMARY: The Department of Transportation is amending its Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) rules to apply to foreign carriers. The final rule also adds new provisions concerning passengers who use medical oxygen and passengers who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. The rule also reorganizes and updates the entire ACAA rule. The Department will respond to some matters raised in this rulemaking by issuing a subsequent supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking.

EFFECTIVE DATE: This rule is effective May 13, 2009.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Robert C. Ashby, Deputy Assistant

    General Counsel for Regulation and Enforcement, Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Ave., SE, Room W94-302, Washington, D.C., 20590 (202) 366-9310 (voice); 202-366-7687 (TTY); bob.ashby@dot.gov. You may also contact Blane Workie,

    Aviation Civil Rights Compliance Branch, Office of the Assistant General Counsel for Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings, Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Ave., SE, Room W98-310, Washington, D.C., 20590 (202) 366- 9345),

    blane.workie@dot.gov.

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    SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

    Background

    Congress enacted the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) in 1986. The statute prohibits discrimination in airline service on the basis of disability. Following a lengthy rulemaking process that included a regulatory negotiation involving representatives of the airline industry and disability community, the Department issued a final ACAA rule in 1March 1990. Since that time, the Department has amended the rule ten times. These

    amendments have concerned such subjects as boarding assistance via lift devices for small aircraft, and subsequently for other aircraft, where level entry boarding is unavailable; seating accommodations for passengers with disabilities; reimbursement for loss of or damage to wheelchairs; modifications to policies or practices necessary to ensure nondiscrimination; terminal accessibility standards; and technical changes to terminology and compliance dates.

     The Department has also frequently issued guidance that interprets or explains further the text of the rule. These interpretations have been disseminated in a variety of ways: preambles to regulatory amendments, industry letters, correspondence with individual carriers or complainants, enforcement actions, web site postings, informal conversations between DOT staff and interested members of the public, etc. This guidance, on a wide variety of subjects, has never been collected in one place. Some of this guidance would be more accessible to the public and more readily understandable if it were incorporated into regulatory text.

     There have also been changes in the ways airlines operate since the original publication of Part 382. For example, airlines now make extensive use of web sites for information and booking purposes. Preboarding announcements are not as universal as they once were. Many carriers now use regional jets for flights that formerly would have been served by larger aircraft. Security screening has become a responsibility of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), rather than that of the airlines. In this rulemaking, the Department is updating Part 382 to take these and other changes in airline operations into account.

    The over 17-year history of amendments and interpretations of Part 382 have made the rule something of a patchwork, which does not flow as clearly and understandably as it might. Restructuring the rule for greater clarity, including using ``plain language'' to the extent feasible, is an important objective. To this end, Part 382 has been restructured in this rule, to organize it by subject matter area. Compared to the present rule, the text is divided into more subparts and sections, with fewer paragraphs and less text in each on average, to make it easier to find regulatory provisions. The rule uses a question-answer format, with language specifically directing particular parties to

     1 The dates and citations for these amendments are the following: April 3, 1990, 55 FR 12336; June 11, 1990, 55 FR 23539; November 1, 1996, 61 FR 56409; January 2, 1997, 62 FR 16; March 4, 1998, 63 FR 10528; March 11, 1998, 63 FR 11954; August 2, 1999, 64 FR 41781; January 5, 2000, 65 FR 352; May 3, 2001, 66 FR 22107; July 8, 2003, 68 FR 40488.

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    take particular actions (e.g., ``As a carrier, you must * * *''). We have also tried to express the (admittedly sometimes technical) requirements of the rule in plain language.

    The Department recognizes that some users, who have become familiar and comfortable with the existing organization and numbering scheme of Part 382, might have to make some adjustments as they work with the restructured rule. However, the structure of this revision is consistent with a Federal government-wide effort to improve the clarity of regulations, which the Department has employed with great success and public acceptance in the case of other significant rules in recent years, such as revisions 2of our disadvantaged business enterprise and drug and alcohol testing procedures rules.

    Many of the provisions of the current Part 382 are retained in this rule with little or no substantive change. To assist users familiar with the current rule in finding material in the new version of the rule, we have included a cross-reference table in Appendix B to the final rule.

    In addition to this general revision and update, the Department in this rule is making important substantive changes to the rule in three areas: coverage of foreign carriers, accommodations for passengers who use oxygen and other respiratory assistive devices, and accommodation for deaf or hard-of-hearing passengers.

    The original 1986 ACAA covered only U.S. air carriers. However, on April 5, 2000, the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR-21) amended the ACAA specifically to include foreign carriers. The ACAA now reads in relevant part:

     In providing air transportation, an air carrier, including (subject to [49 U.S.C.]

    section 40105(b)) any foreign air carrier, may not discriminate against an

    otherwise qualified individual on the following grounds:

     (1) The individual has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits

    one or more major life activities.

     (2) The individual has a record of such an impairment.

     (3) The individual is regarded as having such an impairment.

Section 40105(b) provides as follows:

    (b) Actions of Secretary and Administrator.

    (1) In carrying out this part, the Secretary of Transportation and the

    Administrator

     2 See 64 FR 5096, February 2, 1999 (for 49 CFR Part 26, disadvantaged business enterprise) and 65 FR 79462, December 19, 2000 (for 49 CFR Part 40, drug and alcohol testing procedures).

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    (A) shall act consistently with obligations of the United States Government under

    an international agreement;

    (B) shall consider applicable laws and requirements of a foreign country; and

    (C) may not limit compliance by an air carrier with obligations or liabilities

    imposed by the government of a foreign country when the Secretary takes any

    action related to a certificate of public convenience and necessity issued under

    chapter 411 of this title.

    (2) This subsection does not apply to an agreement between an air carrier or an

    officer or representative of an air carrier and the government of a foreign country,

    if the Secretary of Transportation disapproves the agreement because it is not in

    the public interest. Section 40106 (b)(2) of this title applies to this subsection.

    In response to the AIR-21 requirements, the Department on May 18, 2000, issued a notice of its intent to investigate complaints against foreign carriers according to the amended provisions of the ACAA. The notice also announced the Department's plan to initiate a rulemaking modifying Part 382 to cover foreign carriers. On November 4, 2004, the Department issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to apply the ACAA rule to foreign carriers (69 FR 64364). The NPRM sought to apply Part 382 to foreign carriers in a way that achieves the ACAA's nondiscrimination objectives while not imposing undue burdens on foreign carriers. This NPRM also proposed revisions to a number of other provisions of 14 CFR Part 382 and generally reorganized the rule. The Department received about 1300 comments on this NPRM. In this preamble to the final rule, this proposed rule is called the ―Foreign Carriers NPRM‖ or the ―2004 NPRM.‖

     On September 7, 2005, the Department published a second NPRM, on the subject of medical oxygen and portable respiratory assistive devices (70 FR 53108). The Department received over 1800 comments on this proposed rule, which is referred to in this preamble as the ―Oxygen NPRM.‖ On February 23, 2006, the Department published a third NPRM, concerning accommodations for passengers who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, or deaf-blind. The Department received over 700 comments on this proposed rule, which is called the deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) NPRM in this preamble. This document addresses the over 3800 comments received on all three NPRMs. The section-by-section analysis will describe each provision of the combined final rule.

     In this preamble, when we mention the ―present,‖ ―current,‖ or ―existing‖ rule, we mean the version of Part 382 that is in effect now. It will remain in effect until a year from today, when it will be replaced by the provisions that are published in this final rule.

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    COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

    General Regulatory Approach

     A number of airline industry commenters-- principally, but not only, foreign carriers -- criticized the Foreign Carriers NPRM’s approach as being too detailed and

    prescriptive. Many of these commenters said they preferred a more general approach, in which an overall objective of nondiscrimination and service to persons with disabilities was stated, with the details of implementation left to the discretion of carrier policies, guided by codes of recommended practice issued by various governments or international organizations.

     It is the Department’s experience, over the 21 years since the enactment of the Air Carrier Access Act, that in order to ensure that carriers are accountable for providing nondiscriminatory service to passengers with disabilities, detailed standards and requirements are essential. If all that carriers are responsible for is carrying out, in their best judgment, general objectives of nondiscrimination and good service, or best practices or recommendations, or regulations that are not enforceable by the Department, then effective enforcement of the rights Congress intended to protect in the ACAA becomes impracticable. It is understandable that carriers would wish to implement their goals through policies of their own devising and to limit potential compliance issues. However, the Department is responsible for ensuring consistent nondiscriminatory treatment of passengers with disabilities, including implementation of the variety of specific accommodations that are essential in providing such treatment. We must structure our response to this mandate in a way that allows for clear and consistent implementation by the carriers, and clear and consistent enforcement by the Department. Consequently, we are convinced that the approach taken in the NPRM, reflecting the Department’s years of successful experience in carrying out the ACAA, is appropriate.

Coverage and Definition of “Flight”

     The Foreign Carriers NPRM proposed to cover the activities of foreign carriers with respect to a ―flight,‖ defined as a continuous journey, in the same aircraft or using

    the same flight number that begins or ends at a U.S. airport. The Foreign Carriers NPRM included several examples of what would or would not be considered covered ―flights.‖ One of these examples proposed that if a passenger books a journey on a foreign carrier from New York to Cairo, with a change of plane or flight number in London, the entire flight would be covered for that passenger. When there is a change in both aircraft and flight number at a foreign airport, the rule would not apply beyond that point. Another example proposed that the rules applying to U.S. carriers would apply to a flight operated by a foreign carrier between foreign points that was also listed as a flight of a U.S. carrier via a code sharing arrangement.

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    Commenters, including foreign carriers, generally conceded that it was acceptable for the rule to cover foreign carriers’ flights that started or ended at a U.S. airport. Some carriers said that it was burdensome for them to continue to observe Part 382 rules for a leg of a flight that did not itself touch the U.S. (e.g., the London-Cairo leg in the example mentioned above). We note that only service and nondiscrimination provisions of the rule apply in such a situation, not aircraft accessibility requirements.

    Foreign carriers’ main objection, however, centered on codeshare flights between two foreign points. They said that it was an inappropriate extraterritorial extension of U.S. jurisdiction to apply U.S. rules to a foreign carrier just because the foreign carrier’s flight between two foreign points carried passengers under a code-sharing arrangement with a U.S. carrier. In response to these comments, the Department has changed the applicable provision of the final rule. If a foreign carrier operates a flight between two non-U.S. points and the flight carries the code of a U.S. carrier, the final rule will not extend coverage to the foreign carrier for that flight segment and the foreign carrier will not be responsible to the Department for compliance with Part 382 for that segment. Rather, with respect to passengers ticketed to travel under the U.S. carrier’s code, the

    Department regards the transportation of those passengers to be transportation by a U.S. carrier, concerning which the U.S. carrier is responsible for Part 382 compliance. If there is a service-related violation of Part 382 on a flight between two non-U.S. points operated by a foreign carrier, affecting a passenger traveling under the U.S. carrier’s code, the violation would be attributed to the U.S. carrier, and any enforcement action taken by the Department would be against the U.S. carrier. We note that the aircraft accessibility requirements would not apply in such a situation. U.S. carriers can work with their foreign carrier codeshare partners to ensure that required services are provided to passengers.

Conflict of Law Waivers and Equivalent Alternative Determinations

     One of the most frequent comments made by foreign carriers and their

    organizations was that implementation of the proposed rules would lead to conflicts between Part 382 and foreign laws, rules, voluntary codes of practice, and carrier policies. These conflicts, commenters said, would lead to confusion and reduce efficiency in service to passengers with disabilities. Many commenters advocated that the Department should defer to foreign laws, rules, and guidance, or accept them as equivalent for purposes of compliance with Part 382.

     In anticipation of this concern, and in keeping with the Department’s obligation and commitment to giving due consideration to foreign law where it applies, the Foreign Carriers NPRM proposed a conflict of laws waiver mechanism. Under the proposal, a foreign carrier would be required to comply with Part 382, but could apply to DOT for a waiver if a foreign legal requirement conflicted with a given provision of the rule. If DOT agreed that there was a conflict, then the carrier could continue to follow the binding foreign legal requirement, rather than the conflicting provision of Part 382. Foreign carriers commented that this provision was unfair, because it would force them to begin complying with a Part 382 requirement allegedly in conflict with a foreign legal

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    requirement while the application for a waiver was pending. Some commenters also objected to DOT making a determination concerning whether there really was a conflict between DOT regulations and a provision of foreign law.

     In order to determine whether a foreign carrier should be excused from complying with an otherwise applicable provision of Part 382, the Department has no reasonable alternative to deciding whether a conflict with a foreign legal requirement exists. The Department