Airline Mask Exemption for Disabled Passengers? Plan Ahead


On February 1, 2021 the Center for Disease Control issued new requirements for mandatory mask wearing on all interstate transportation, including US airlines. Although most airlines already required masks, this CDC order makes masking-up a requirement for most people to fly. There are however a few exceptions.

  • Children under 2
  • Cases where it would create a workplace safety issue
  • Passengers who cannot safely wear a mask due to a disability

That said, it’s not like you can just stroll up to the gate and declare that you are going mask-free due to your disability. Some advance preparation is required. First and foremost, contact your airline, because exemption policies will likely differ from carrier to carrier.

For example, as of February 1, 2021 American Airlines requires customers who are unable to wear a face mask due to their disability, to contact the Special Assistance department at least 72 hours in advance. Documentation from a licensed health care provider as well as a negative COVID-19 test are also required.

Some airlines may also require passengers requesting mask exemptions to:

  • Request this accommodation in advance
  • Check in early
  • Be evaluated by the airline’s medical expert

And then there are other airlines that remain silent regarding a medical exemption from wearing face masks. Personally I would check the airline’s exemption policy before I booked a flight if I was unable to mask-up due to a disability.

It’s good that a medical exemption is now possible, but the key phrase here is “plan ahead”.


What the New DOT Rental Car Regs Really Mean


There’s been a lot of chatter about a proposed rule released last month by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Press releases were distributed  to the media about the proposed changes, which resulted in a glut of editorial coverage. Unfortunately many of the people who wrote about the proposed changes were unfamiliar with the existing ADA regulations for rental cars. As a result, headlines like “New ADA Rules Will Make Rental Cars More Accessible” began to appear.

And those headlines are rather misleading. Continue reading


New York City Subway Gets More Elevators


One of the biggest roadblocks to accessible public transportation in the Big Apple is the lack of elevators in the subway system, which was largely constructed before the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) was on the books. With that in mind the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) recently announced a new accessibility project that will add 17 new elevators in eight stations. Continue reading


Amtrak to Compensate Disabled Passengers for Inaccessible Stations


Under the terms of a settlement agreement reached in December 2020 between the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Amtrak, disabled passengers who traveled or tried to travel on Amtrak may be entitled to compensation. Specifically, passengers who traveled or tried to travel to or from one of 78 inaccessible Amtrak stations as far back as July 27, 2013 may be eligible for a piece of the $2.25 million compensation fund. You can apply for compensation at Continue reading


DOT Releases Updated Service Animal Regulations for Air Travel


In an ongoing effort to keep up with changing times, the Department of Transportation (DOT) recently released their updated rules for air travel with service animals. This rule replaces the previous one ( ). which was released in October 2018.

While the previous rule increased the documentation required to fly with an emotional support animal, this update classifies emotional support animals as pets. The rule is expected to take effect in early 2021, 30 days after it’s published in the Federal Register. Here are the highlights of the new guidelines. Continue reading


Flyer Beware – American Airlines Limits Wheelchair Weight


airplane window

On October 21, 2020, veteran airline passenger John Morris encountered a new hiccup in the world of wheelchair travel. That’s when American Airlines ground personnel at Gainesville Regional Airport  refused to load his power wheelchair on his flight to Dallas.


Because it weighed in at over 300 pounds.

Can they do that? Doesn’t the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) prohibit things like that? Well, yes and no. Although American Airlines quoted a passage in the discussion section of the old  May 13, 2008 ACAA update, the spirit of the law probably still applies, and at least gives them some wiggle room.

The issue apparently is with American’s smaller aircraft —  the Bombardier CRJ700 in this case. It’s unknown if the airline  just doesn’t want to risk possible wheelchair damage or if it is truly a safety issue. But apparently their new weight limit regulation for wheelchairs went into effect on June 12, 2020.

The current version of the ACAA touches on this issue in §382.127:

“Whenever baggage compartment size and aircraft airworthiness considerations do not prohibit doing so, you must, as a carrier, accept a passenger’s battery-powered wheelchair or other similar mobility device.”

So the argument could be made that if the compartment size and/or aircraft airworthiness are an issue, then an airline can indeed prohibit carrying wheelchairs over 300 pounds on smaller aircraft. I’m sure the attorneys will sort it all out somewhere down the line, but for now what’s a wheelchair-user to do?

First off, right now I would avoid American Airlines. I’ve not heard of any other carriers that have instituted this new policy, but that’s not to say that they won’t. Keep an eye on the special services section of your airline’s website to see if any new limitations pop up.

Second, know the weight of your wheelchair. Five pounds can make a big difference. If possible take off any equipment, like the footrests that could lighten the load a bit. And remember to take along a bag to put them in.

Ask the airline if they would consider removing the battery. This could also lighten the load.

Last but not least, become familiar with aircraft choices. In most cases you don’t have a choice of aircraft when flying into regional airports, but sometimes you do at larger hubs. Go for the larger aircraft whenever possible.

And I guess the best thing that everyone can do, is to just be aware of this issue. Although it’s not the ideal solution, knowledge in this case is power. Give you hard earned money to another air carrier – one that will carry your heavy wheelchair.


Plan a Post-COVID Death Valley Winter Getaway


I distinctly remember a girlfriends getaway camping trip to Death Valley many, many moons ago. We were young and foolish and the only time we could all get together was near the end of May. Donna said she wanted to go to Death Valley, and with little thought to anything like the weather, the rest of us were on board. I’ll spare you the gory details but the temperatures hit 120 that fateful week. Continue reading


Finding Wheelchair-Accessible Restrooms on Public Lands in COVID-19 Times


Accessible trail to overlook at Donnell Vista

The general line of thought for travel in these COVID-19 times is to take a road trip and try and steer clear of crowds. In other words, stay away from theme parks and instead head to our national parks and other public outdoor spaces. So that’s exactly what we did a few weeks ago – we packed the car and hit the road to the Eastern Sierras. Continue reading


COVID-19 Travel — Visit Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove this Summer


The Grizzly Giant in Mariposa Grove

As a lifelong Sierra National Forest  resident, normally I wouldn’t set foot in Yosemite National Park in the summer months. There are just way too many people there for my comfort, during what I affectionately refer to as the “stupid tourist season”. But this isn’t a normal year – it’s a COVID-19 year. So with day-use passes required, and visitation capped at my favorite national park, I decided to roll the dice and pay a visit to Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove one hot August day. And here’s the skinny on how you can do the same thing for a wheelchair-accessible day trip to this secluded giant sequoia grove. Continue reading