December 12 is coming up quickly, and if you’re an airline executive, you may already have this particular date circled in red on your calendar. December 12 is the upcoming deadline for compliance with the next phase of the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), which regulates airline accessibility.
In other words, it’s the date by which all web pages on an airline’s website – not just those offering so-called “core” air travel services and information – must be completely accessible to people with disabilities. In a previous post, we discussed the first phase of the ACAA.
The ACAA protects the rights of airline customers with disabilities by making it illegal to discriminate against them while providing air transportation into, out of, or within the U.S. The act covers a lot of ground (no pun intended). For example, all aircrafts, including washrooms, must be accessible.
Airline staff must always be prepared to provide assistance to passengers with disabilities. Service animals must always be permitted on board. Importantly, the ACAA also mandates that all reservation services and information provided to the public, including the information on a website, must be accessible.
Why the Need to Legislate Air Carrier Accessibility?
People with disabilities have a right to equal treatment and services, and that includes an equal right to take to the skies like any other airline customer. These rights are also protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Why, you might ask, is legislation like the ACAA necessary? Aren’t travellers with disabilities getting along just fine?
Do a Google search for airline accessibility problems, and you’ll turn up a number of recent real-life examples that’ll make you cringe.
Like the young man with cerebral palsy who was forced to crawl off an airplane to go to the bathroom, after waiting 30 minutes for a boarding chair.
Or the woman with MS who broke her arm trying to get into a supposedly accessible airplane washroom, after discovering the on-board wheelchair didn’t actually fit through the doorway.
Open Doors Organization’s 2015 nationwide survey1 revealed that 72% of air travellers with disabilities had recently experienced an obstacle with one or more airlines. In an age where the customer is king and customer experience is a competitive advantage, the statistic is rather high.
Undoubtedly, not everyone who has been discriminated against by an airline takes the time and effort to file an official complaint with the Department of Transportation (DOT). But it’s telling that last year, DOT accessibility complaints accounted for almost one in twenty of all complaints filed against airlines for any reason –including baggage, ticket refunds and in-flight service. Clearly, there is still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to airline accessibility.
Of course, you don’t have to have a disability to have a poor customer experience with an airline. According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index,2 none of the U.S. airlines they assessed scored above 80 this year in customer satisfaction. Several were below 70. That’s a lot of unhappy customers.
In fact, research shows that this is par for course in the airline industry, where few other sectors rank more poorly in customer satisfaction. Another survey shows that most air travellers do not believe that the customer experience has been getting any better.3
An Accessible Airline Means an Accessible Airline Website
In this industry, it can be particularly challenging to keep customers happy, because so many variables are outside of an airline’s control, such as bad weather or unruly passengers. And yet, perhaps unfairly, these factors do shape the overall customer experience.
But that makes it all the more essential to ensure that the digital customer experience is seamless, because this is one area that airlines can completely control.
Plus, customers are less forgiving when it comes to their online, versus off-line, experience. Studies have shown that customers are quick to become frustrated and turn to a competitor when they encounter problems with a company’s website.
And, of course, a growing number of travellers are researching or making their reservations online. If you think there aren’t many people with disabilities among them, think again. Airline accessibility does make a difference to a significant market, which is why the US DOT website accessibility rules are coming into effect soon.
Another survey found that within a two-year period, 26 million American adults with disabilities took 73 million vacation or business trips.4
They’re spending $17.3 billion every year, plus the same amount again on average for their travel companions. That’s a market that any airline should be delighted to tap into. It’s also much better for the bottom line we might add, than a $27,500 penalty for every violation of the Air Carrier Access Act!
How Web Accessibility Pays Off
Forrester Research5 has demonstrated that airlines stand to benefit enormously from a positive customer experience – to the tune of over two billion dollars when additional purchases, churn reduction and word of mouth are taken into consideration. Conversely, a song written by a disgruntled customer after a negative airline experience has been viewed over 16 million times on YouTube!6
The take-home point? It’s well worth taking into account your customers with disabilities. The word will spread, and the new business will come.
Certainly, there are many different aspects to consider when it comes to airline accessibility. But today more than ever, airlines should be thinking about their websites. How can you ensure that every page of your site is accessible by December 12?
Use the universally accepted set of standards, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0,7 to verify your digital accessibility. As a reference, your website should be Level A and AA compliant. Don’t think of the December 12 as a deadline. Think of it, instead, as an opportunity.
An Innovative Solution
eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY has developed a comprehensive accessibility solution to help organizations follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and achieve and maintain compliance with standards and regulations. This includes integrating web compliance evaluation services with assistive technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities. Learn more about eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY’s innovative solution.
- Eric Lipp. Barriers To Access In Aviation Show Steep Decline: New Findings from Open Doors Organization on Airports and Airlines. Open Doors Organization, September 3, 2015.
- American Customer Satisfaction Index
- Derek Birdsong. The airline customer experience: A disconnect between executives and travelers. Sabre.com, February 28, 2015.
- Why the Airline Industry is Destroying the Customer Experience! Fonolo.com, August 8, 2013
- United Breaks Guitars.Uploaded to YouTube, July 6, 2009
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0