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AIR TRAVEL WITH TS
What You Need to Know

by Mitzi Waltz

You’ve probably heard of IDEA and the ADA, but chances are you think the ACAA is something to do with college basketball. It wouldn’t be surprising. The Air Carrier Access Act is one of the least well known civil rights laws around—but if you have TS and need to travel for work or pleasure, it’s there to protect you. 

The ACAA has been on the books since 1986*.  In the past few years there have been many more complaints from passengers with disabilities who have been denied service or mistreated; some of the Act’s amendments were passed in response to those complaints.   

You may find that not all airline employees are as aware of their responsibilities as they should be. Accordingly, if you suspect your TS might draw unwelcome attention from either airline employees or fellow passengers, you need to know and assert your rights.


Do you have to “warn” the Airline of your TS?   No, you don’t need to contact the airline in advance, unless you have a tic that involves touching other people. If that’s the case, the airline may be able to arrange for you to sit by yourself. Some people with TS ask for a seat at or near the front of the plane, to assure that their tics are seen and/or heard by the fewest number of passengers. Others don’t make any special arrangements, but carry a letter from their doctor or a card explaining that they have TS, just in case a problem arises. 

Beyond these steps, it’s more a matter of handling yourself and managing the way you interact with others. If you begin to tic during the flight and you think those sitting next to you have noticed, you might choose to let them know that you have Tourette Syndrome, just to relieve the tension and avoid misunderstandings. The less stress you are under, the fewer tics you’ll probably experience.


Can an Airline Refuse to Let You Fly?  In 2001, a landmark federal case involving a couple, both of whom had TS, was settled out of court. Julie Ann and Adam Seligman were refused boarding on a Northwest Airline flight. Northwest agreed to improved training about TS for its employees as  part of the settlement. This successful suit has put airlines on notice about the need for greater awareness of TS and how to accommodate people who have it. The Seligman case also established that the ACAA applies to people with TS specifically, regardless of the nature or severity of their tics, including major body movements and coprolalia. Your tics may be annoying or even offensive to someone on the flight, but unless they are actually dangerous, you are covered. 

Indeed, there is only one reason you can legally be refused service by an airline in the US because of your disability.  If you behave in a way that actually harms, or threatens to harm, others on the plane you can be refused boarding or removed from the flight. This rule applies to anyone who flies, of course, not just people with TS. If you worry that your tics might be misinterpreted as potentially dangerous (for example, if you have a thrusting arm or leg movement), that’s probably a good reason to contact the airline in advance to ensure that accommodations are in place.


Going Abroad? It’s important to note that once you leave US airspace you will be under the protection of the airline’s own rules and, once overseas, laws applicable in other countries. If you’re planning international travel, you may want to investigate applicable rules and laws, starting with the airlines It’s important to note that once you leave US airspace you will be under the protection of the airline’s own rules and, once overseas, laws applicable in other countries. If you’re planning international travel, you may want to investigate applicable rules and laws, starting with the airlines themselves on their individual websites. Other online resources for international travelers with disabilities abound, although many are linked to commercial sites/ticket sellers. In the U.S., the Aviation Consumer Protection Division enforces regulations, monitors compliance, and offers online consumer complaint forms for travelers at http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/.


What if the Airline Doesn’t Treat You in Accordance with ACAA Provisions?  Every carrier operating scheduled service in the U.S. must designate at least one Complaints Resolution Official (CRO) to resolve ACAA complaints at each airport it serves. The CRO must be available either in person or by phone, at all times the airline is operating at a given airport. When CRO’s are available by phone, they must be able to communicate by means of a TDD.




* In 1990, and through subsequent amendments, under Title 14 CFR, Part 382, The Department of Transportation issued rules defining the rights of passengers and the obligations of air carriers under this law



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