United will not face class action over limited availability of accessible check-in kiosks at California’s airports, the Ninth Circuit ruled on Tuesday.
The National Federation of the Blind sued United Airlines in October 2010, alleging the airline's airport kiosks were not blind-friendly.
The three-judge panel ruled federal statutes pre-empt the National Federation for the Blind's claims for violation of California's Unruh Civil Rights Act.
"According to the federation, any state-law claims that fall outside the scope of the ADA express pre-emption provision are necessarily preserved by the FAA's savings clause. Not so," Judge Marsha Berzon of the three-judge panel wrote.
According to the National Federation of the Blind lawsuit, a passenger could sue an airline for violating any state standard of care not expressly pre-empted by the ADA, notwithstanding federal regulations covering in depth the particular field at issue. "The result would be chaotic," the Ninth Circuit panel said.
The ruling noted that new Department of Transportation’s rules on the accessibility of airport kiosks address concerns raised by the federation's suit. "Given its great detail and pervasive extent, the new regulation pre-empts any state regulation of that same field," the panel ruled.
Most readers will find the legal language of this ruling hard to comprehend. In reality, this ruling explains the greatest obstacle disabled people traveling by air are up against. Airlines and airports thrive on compliance. If something isn’t mandatory, it rarely happens.
Marginal change can be achieved by individual campaigners or management with personal experience with disability. The latter are usually more successful introducing permanent change while the former are more likely to make short lasting gains.
Promoting new legislation or improving existing one is extremely complex and expensive. And the hardest task is not convincing uninterested lawmakers; the industry is not shy making eye-watering resources available to its legal teams.
Towards the end of the year, I came across a classic example of "The Root of All Evil". Following a passenger complaint, management of the Police force manning passport control desks at one of Europe’s most recently built airport Terminals blamed poor infrastructure for making passengers with physical impairments stand and walk from their wheelchairs to the officers’ desks.
Several passengers with reduced mobility lodged their complaints about this appalling situation. Yet, the Police force apparently never thought of mentioning the problem to the airport owners.
This reminds us that the lack of cultural acceptance of disability is what really stands between disabled people and access to air travel.
I often say that disabled people already have a difficult life. It’s basic human decency not to make it any harder than necessary.
Perhaps this thought is the milestone upon which we should begin re-inventing the entire concept of access to air travel, foregoing on legal requirements and compliance and focusing on making life a bit easier for those who need help and those who help alike.
After all, greatness is fully achieved by making complex scenarios regulating all aspects of air travel simple and accessible for the vast majority of people.