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Paralyzed veterans sue over delay of a rule requiring airlines to track lost or damaged wheelchairs

Paralyzed veterans sue over delay of a rule requiring airlines to track lost or damaged wheelchairs
A traveler in a wheelchair at Los Angeles International Airport. The U.S. Transportation Department has delayed implementing a rule to force airlines to keep track of passenger wheelchairs. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

A veterans group has sued the U.S. Transportation Department for delaying a rule that would have required airlines to track data on lost or damaged wheelchairs and scooters in the same way that carriers report lost or damaged luggage.

Starting next year, airlines operating in the U.S. were expected to begin reporting when they had lost or damaged passengers' wheelchairs and scooters.

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But the Transportation Department has delayed implementation of the rule until 2019, prompting a lawsuit by Paralyzed Veterans of America contending that the reporting would help fliers identify which carriers are most likely to lose or damage a wheelchair.

Airlines usually require passengers to have their wheelchairs or scooters stored in a plane's cargo area. During the five-year period when the wheelchair rule was under consideration, dozens of travelers wrote to the Transportation Department citing examples of lost or damaged wheelchairs.

"Wheelchairs replace functionality and provide independence. Having your only means of leaving the plane get lost or damaged is demoralizing," David Zurfluh, president of Paralyzed Veterans of America, said in a statement.

"It is a significant issue for all travelers with mobility limitations, and one Paralyzed Veterans of America will not relent on until it's fixed," he said.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court in the District of Columbia, says that delaying the rule without notice or allowing additional public input violates the Administrative Procedure Act. The suit says the agency's only explanation for the delay was that the Trump administration had called for a freeze on new regulations and that the rule would pose a "challenge" for the airline industry.

The veterans group is asking the court to reinstate the original starting date of Jan. 1, 2018.

The Transportation Department declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Shortly after Donald Trump took office, his then chief of staff, Reince Priebus, asked all federal agencies to delay the effective date of new regulations by up to 60 days for further review. An airline industry group told the Transportation Department that a delay to the rule would be in the "spirit" of the Priebus request.

The agency responded by delaying the rule by one year to Jan. 1, 2019.

To read more about the travel and tourism industries, follow @hugomartin on Twitter.

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