Airlines and Web Accessibility Litigation

In the past decade, there have been many lawsuits regarding web accessibility, and the travel industry is no exception. As air carriers have moved more services online, from booking flights to checking on flight status, equal access for users of all physical abilities become more important. The popularity of airport kiosks to perform important services for travelers also becomes an issue if this equipment is not accessible.

Some passengers with disabilities have filed suit against the airlines due to the inaccessible websites and equipment. The most high-profile lawsuits in the travel industry so far has been Southwest Airlines and Jet Blue.

Southwest Airlines ADA Accessibility Lawsuit

In one of the first major cases about web accessibility, in 2002 a judge ruled that the Americans With Disabilities Act did not apply to online properties. A group of blind users sued Southwest Airlines, alleging that the website contained features not available elsewhere and argued that the site was a place of public accommodation. Although the judge sided with the airline, the ruling contained a footnote that Southwest didn’t “employ all available technologies to expand accessibility to its Web site for visually impaired customers who would be an added source of revenue.” The ruling was later appealed and the case was eventually dismissed on procedural grounds, but left open the question of public accommodation. After this case, many other rulings increasingly found that the ADA can apply to online sites. Further rules are expected from the Department of Justice later this year in order to clarify.

JetBlue Website & Kiosk Accessibility Lawsuit

In a more recent airline case, in 2011 a judge ruled in favor of JetBlue Airways that state discrimination laws do not apply to websites or kiosks. The case is currently under appeal and is being closely watched by the disability community. The suit was filed by the California Council of the Blind (CCB) and three individual users. The case was dismissed because it was ruled that the Department of Transportations ruled superseded state’s disabilities laws;  at the time, the DoT did not have rules requiring web and kiosk accessibility. No doubt spurred by this litigation, the DoT has recently extended its rules to include web and kiosk accessibility.

The recent announcement that the Department of Transportation is extending the Air Carrier Access Act rules to include web accessibility may help fill in the gaps left by the these cases and reinforces the importance of making sure air travel is accessible to all users.

Would you like to learn more about Air Carrier Accessibility requirements?

Join accessibility experts from Deque Systems for a free 30 minute webinar about the ACAA on January 21, at 2 PM EST. In addition to the basics about the new ACAA accessibility requirements, we will also have time to answer any questions you may have about compliance.