The discussion is now closed. The final summary is available.

§1. Who? U.S. & foreign airlines

Using its authority to prevent discrimination on the basis of disability and unfair trade practices in air travel, DOT’s website accessibility proposal would cover:

(a) All US air carriers, including regional and small charter airlines. (See RIA Table 8.) But DOT does want comment on whether this is too broad:

  • Should DOT exclude websites of small and very small airlines (those that fly no plane with more than 60 seats)? These 33 companies carry only a small fraction of US air travelers. (Most operate in Alaska, Hawaii, or the Pacific or Caribbean islands.) But they often serve communities that larger carriers don’t. Typically, these carriers’ websites provide route maps, customer service information, etc. but link travelers to the websites of larger partner carriers for actual ticket sales, check-in, etc. Some small carriers have said they would stop providing even this information on their websites to avoid the cost of redesigning for accessibility.
  • Should DOT exclude the websites of carriers offering only charter service? Many charter services similarly provide some flight-related information but rely on partner carrier sites for actual ticket sales.
  • Should DOT exclude airlines that advertise air transportation but do not sell airline tickets?

(b) Foreign air carriers that market air transportation to the general US public. (See RIA Table 9) Any foreign carrier that (i) shows its fares in US dollars; or (ii) offers flights to, from, or within US locations; or (iii) offers an English version of its website, would be included.

Read what DOT said: SNPRM: Current Website Proposal, SNPRM: Website Applicability
Proposed new §382.43(c)

§2. Who? Travel agents & tour operators

DOT’s authority to prevent unfair trade practices includes ticket agents as well as carriers. Online ticket agents (OTAs) include both travel agencies and tour operators. An estimated 17% of travel agencies and tour operators offer online ticketing. DOT is not proposing to directly require these online travel agencies (OTAs) to have accessible websites; instead, it would make the airlines responsible for making sure that OTAs who market air transportation as the airlines’ ticket agents comply with the same accessibility standards as the airlines’ own sites. (See Websites: Accessibility Standards) “Air transportation” includes any travel package with air travel as one component. DOT suggests several methods carriers could use to meet this responsibility: sending a notice to their agents spelling out the accessibility requirement; checking their OTAs’ sites once or twice a year to confirm accessibility; or monitoring disability complaints received by their OTAs to find ones related to web accessibility.

A different rule would apply for ticket agents that qualify as small businesses (defined by the Small Business Administration as having annual revenues of $3.5 million or less for travel agencies and $7 million or less for tour operators.) Roughly 97% of all travel agencies and tour operators qualify as small businesses, but 96% of all online sales in the leisure travel market (pdf) are made by the four big OTAs: Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline and Travelocity. The American Society of Travel Agents told DOT that: (i) 90% of small companies have only 4-6 employees and about half use websites designed in-house, by a friend, or using a template; (ii) very few of these sites can handle actually booking travel online; and (iii) online transactions that do occur are only about 5% of total revenues. For these reasons, DOT is not proposing to require airlines to push that these sites be made compliant. Instead, if a small business’s website that sells air transportation is not accessible, the airlines must make sure the company is making web discounts and other web-based services equally available to travelers with disabilities by some other means. (E.g., by phone or in person)

DOT asks:

  • Is it a good idea to make airlines responsible for the accessibility of websites of medium and large OTAs?
  • Should DOT apply web accessibility requirements to ticket agents directly? DOT believes that ticket agents could be regulated directly because marketing air transportation on websites that are not accessible to consumers with disabilities amounts to an unfair trade practice.
  • Should there be a sales volume requirement, so that airlines are responsible only for ticket agents that sell more than, for example, 10% of the carriers’ annual ticket sales?
  • Should DOT wait to deal with OTAs until the Department of Justice finishes its ongoing rulemaking under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which may include website accessibility?

Read what DOT said: SNPRM: Website Current Proposal, SNPRM: Website Applicability; RIA Part 3: Overview of Air Transportation Sector Proposed new §382.43(c)

§3. Which content? U.S. carriers

All pages of US air carriers’ “primary website” that are visible to the public would have to comply with the proposed website accessibility standard. DOT defines a “primary website” as the traditional “desktop” version of websites accessed through a address, in contrast to newer mobile versions. DOT asks for comment on possible alternatives for less coverage:

  • Should accessibility be required for only the pages of the primary website necessary to book a flight? This was the position of the Air Transport Association when DOT first proposed website accessibility in 2004.
  • Should accessibility be required only for mobile versions of carriers’ sites?

Possible alternatives for greater coverage:

  • DOT is not currently proposing to require accessibility for the mobile version of carriers’ sites. Should it include mobile websites? (See related questions in Websites: Accessibility Standards and Websites: Costs & Benefits of Accessibility.)
  • Should airlines be required to ensure that any third-party software downloadable from a link on their own site (e.g., deal finding software) is accessible?
  • Should airlines be required to make all of their electronic communications with travelers accessible (e.g., emails for reservation confirmation, flight status notification, or special offers)?
  • DOT considered requiring carriers to provide a website function that would allow travelers with disabilities to add special service requests for disability accommodation to their passenger record. Airlines, however, insist that it is very important for travelers with disabilities to talk directly to a customer service agent so that there is no misunderstanding about accommodation needs. So DOT is not proposing this requirement. Should it?
  • Should airlines be required to make the web sites of carrier alliances accessible? Carrier alliance web sites typically contain extensive flight information and tools allowing consumers to plan flight itineraries. Alliance sites link consumers to carrier websites, but DOT did not include alliance web sites in its proposal because these sites are not carriers’ primary web sites.

Read what DOT said: SNPRM: 2004 Website Comments, SNPRM: Current Website Proposal, SNPRM: Scope of Website Requirements
Proposed new §382.43(c)

§4. Which content? Foreign carriers & Non-US web sites of US Carriers

DOT is proposing a more limited accessibility requirement for foreign carriers’ websites and US carriers’ websites that market air transportation to consumers outside the US: only pages that are actually involved in marketing air transportation to the US general public would be covered.

  • Should web accessibility requirements apply only to the websites of US and foreign carriers marketing air transportation to the general public in the US?
  • Should DOT expand the proposed requirements to cover all websites including sites that mainly market air transportation to customers outside of the US?

Read what DOT said: SNPRM: Website Current proposal, SNPRM: Scope of Website Requirements Proposed new §382.43(c), Extension of Comment Period and Clarification Notice

Peoples' Comments

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September 19, 2011 11:33 am

A good compromise for small airlines might be to let them comply thru an accessible mobile site. Nobody wins if they stop putting information on their main websites to avoid the expense of redesigning them.

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September 19, 2011 9:24 pm

The best compromise is simply to require the airlines to provide the same pricing by telephone or TTY as is available on the web, for those with disabilities. This will be a whole lot cheaper to implement and avoid a whole lot of unnecessary rework for websites.

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October 26, 2011 8:28 pm

I would argue against making airlines responsible for the accessibility of medium to large OTAs, or any for that matter. I find it confusing that the DOT would put the burden of responsibility for accessibility of OTA websites on the airline rather than on the OTAs directly. If the airlines were held responsible, the methods DOT suggests for them meeting this responsibility vastly differ. Sending a notice is easy. Checking for full accessibility compliance is not and is costly. Is the expectation that the airline would do more than send a notice or adjust contracts to note that the OTA site(s) should be accessible or be held accountable for any fines? Would it be the airline fined rather than the OTA if a violation of regulations was found? It seems to me that OTAs are currently responsible… more »

…for being DOT-compliant with regard to fare advertisements (note the recent fines faced by Orbitz). Those ads are content of their website directly controlled by them. Why would we expect airlines to face fines for content and functionality that they do not directly control? « less
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    October 31, 2011 1:49 pm

    Welcome to Regulation Room, htebazile, and thank you for your comment. DOT has proposed to make airlines responsible for ensuring that online ticket agents meet accessibility requirements, but the Agency is seeking comment as to the best way to implement this proposal and has not yet decided upon the specifics of enforcement. DOT has clear authority under the Air Carrier Access Act to regulate discrimination on airlines’ websites, but it is less clear whether it has authority to regulate the OTA websites in the same way. If making airlines responsible is the only way for DOT to regulate accessibility on OTA websites, should it still go through with these plans?

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      December 1, 2011 1:00 pm

      I don’t think making airlines responsible is the only way. It shouldn’t be. I think DOT should regulate the way in which air travel is sold whether it is by the carrier or not. It already does apparently with fare advertisements on sites like Orbitz, so why wouldn’t it with regard to website accessibility requirements?

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December 1, 2011 12:57 pm

Will transactional HTML emails generated by the website be included in the content that is required to be accessible?

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December 1, 2011 7:47 pm

DOT is proposing that airlines be required to make only their primary websites accessible. Do you think airlines should be required to make all of their communications with travelers accessible?

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