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The Air Carrier Access Act

An overview of ACAA requirements for websites, what it means to be accessible, and other helpful resources.

What is the Air Carrier Access Act?

The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 (ACAA) prohibits discrimination in air transportation by domestic and foreign air carriers against qualified individuals with disabilities. In March 1990, the Department of Transportation issued a rule defining the rights of passengers and the obligations of air carriers as a direct result of this law. It applies only to air carriers that provide regularly scheduled services for hire to the public, and requirements address a wide range of issues including boarding assistance and certain accessibility features in newly built aircraft and new or altered airport facilities.

airplane taking off from an airport
image of an airline booking website

Does the Air Carrier Access Act apply to websites?

Yes. On November 12, 2013 the DoT issued new rules requiring U.S. and foreign air carriers operating flights to or selling tickets to the U.S. public ensure that the public-facing content of websites that they own or control conforms to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level A and Level AA.

The new rules required that core functionality of a carrier’s website be compliant by December 12, 2015, and the full website by December 12, 2016.

The requirements apply to both U.S. air carriers’ public-facing pages and foreign carriers’ public-facing pages that are used to advertise or sell to the U.S. public for air transportation that begins or ends in the U.S.

Fast Facts on the Air Carrier Access Act & Digital Accessibility

How do people with disabilities use the web?

The answer: Assistive Technology (AT)

AT is a broad term referring to hardware or software that bridges the gap between a person’s abilities and the content they want to access. Some examples of commonly used AT by disability type include:

  • Blind: Screen readers, braille displays, and speech recognition software
  • Low Vision: Screen magnification, contrast adjustments, and other methods to personalize display
  • Mobility: keyboard-only navigation, speech recognition, eye tracking, and switch controls

Learn more about how individuals with disabilities interact with web and mobile technology in the Understanding Assistive Technology series.

A diverse group of people engage with accessibility compliant devices
The 4 Principles of WCAG - Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, Robust

What does it mean for a site to be “accessible”?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines require that a website be:

Perceivable: If someone cannot see, written content can be read by a screen reader. If someone cannot hear, audio content has captions.

Operable: If someone cannot use a mouse or touchpad, they can navigate by keyboard or by voice command software. If someone moves or reads slowly, they can request additional time to complete a task.

Understandable: If someone clicks on a navigation menu, it behaves like a navigation menu. If an error is made on a form, an error message points out the location of the error and suggests how to fix it.

Robust: The site is compatible with current assistive technology and is prepared to roll up to future iterations of AT.

Is other technology covered under the Air Carrier Access Act?

Automated kiosks operated by carriers at airports must be accessible to people with disabilities. The regulations require that 25% of kiosks installed after December 12, 2016 meet accessible design specifications, and that 25% of all kiosks be accessible by December 12, 2022.

The DoT did not include mobile accessibility in the final rule, citing several key factors in their decision – namely that no mobile accessibility standard existed and most mobile devices weren’t accessible at the time, and they wanted carriers to focus on bringing their web sites into compliance first. Fast forward to today – the website compliance deadlines are now several years behind us, mobile usage has skyrocketed, and airlines are proactively doing the same for their mobile apps and mobile web in anticipation of future rulings by the DoT.

air carrier ticketing kiosk
person with a magnifying glass over a mobile phone screen

How do I test my website for compliance?

Free tools are a wonderful place to start! There are several free tools available that can give you a quick overview of your site’s compliance. Try to test up to six pages on your website for free.

Of course, you get what you pay for. But if you need to convince the person in charge of the budget that you have an accessibility problem, you can do that with the results of a free testing tool.

Next, you’ll want to contact an accessibility expert to do an audit. During the audit process, there will be automated and manual testing, as well as functional testing by people with disabilities.

After the audit, you’ll receive a report with your overall level of compliance and a list of accessibility issues that need remediation. Depending on your relationship with your vendor, they can provide training, help desk support, or even code side-by-side with your developers.

Request a free risk assessment (mini audit) of your website

Additional Resources

Collage of air travel images including a airplane, paper ticket, credit card, and airline website

To ACAA and Beyond: Taking Accessibility to the Next Level


Learn the three key tenets that airlines should be focusing on now when it comes to digital accessibility, and how to harness the value of accessibility into measurable return on investment.

Scandinavian Air Settlement Shows Separate Website is Not Equal


To comply with Air Carrier Access Act requirements the airline created a separate assistive site instead of fixing their primary site. The Dept. of Transportation said that didn’t fly.

The 2020 State of Digital Accessibility Report

The 2020 State of Digital Accessibility Report


See the results of our survey of over 1100 professionals in organizations large and small about their accessibility programs–what drives them, the types of challenges they’re facing, and there goals for 2020 and beyond.