United Airlines just announced that it has started adding Braille to its planes—making it the first U.S. carrier to incorporate the accessible signage on its aircraft.
So far, the airline has retrofitted about a dozen of its more than 900 planes with Braille; the markings denote the individual rows and seat letters on the overhead compartments and are also found inside and outside the lavatories. It plans to equip the entire fleet with Braille before 2027.
“Finding your seat on a plane or getting to the restroom is something most of us take for granted, but for millions of our customers, it can be a challenge to do independently,” Linda Jojo, executive vice president and chief customer officer for United, said in a statement. “By adding more tactile signage throughout our interiors, we’re making the flying experience more inclusive and accessible, and that’s good for everyone.”
For the new signage, United worked with the National Federation of the Blind, the American Council of the Blind, and other disability advocacy groups to determine the best places to place the Braille for visually impaired customers.
“The flight experience is often frustrating for blind people for a number of reasons, one of which is the amount of information that is available exclusively through printed signs and other visual indicators,” Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said in a statement. The organization hopes to continue working with United to explore additional ways that flying can be “more accessible and less stressful for blind passengers.”
According to the Department of Transportation, roughly 27 million people with disabilities of all varieties traveled by air in 2019. Within the past year, more and more airlines have rolled out programs to address making the flying experience more equitable. In June 2023, Delta Flight Products, a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines, unveiled plans for an airplane seat that will allow travelers who use a wheelchair to bring their wheelchair onto the aircraft and remain seated in it for the duration of the flight. In 2022, Turkish Airlines launched a program to give passengers lanyards decorated with sunflowers to help crew identify people with hidden disabilities (such as chronic pain or illnesses, diabetes, dementia, autism, brain injuries, ADHD, dyslexia, joint issues, mental illness, or sleep disorders, among others), to let them know they might need additional help during their travels.
Unlike the recently announced federal mandate that new narrow-body planes be built with accessible bathrooms (which required an amendment to the Air Carrier Access ACT of 1986), no new laws were created to require airlines to add Braille to planes new or old for visually impaired customers. Time will tell if other airlines will follow United’s lead. As to why it wasn’t already standard on planes, National Federation of the Blind spokesperson Chris Danielsen said he wasn’t sure why it wasn’t more common, adding that “airlines have until recently focused on checking the boxes of regulatory compliance rather than on collaborating with customers with disabilities to discuss what might make the flying experience better for everyone.”
Danielsen added that there has been a greater willingness recently on the part of airlines to work with advocacy groups for visually impaired people, “although there is much work yet to be done and some big problem areas that still remain.” He pointed to the treatment of blind people who use guide dogs as a continued point of contention.
“Many airlines have implemented paperwork and documentation requirements for blind people using guide dogs,” Danielsen said, adding that in some cases blind people have been denied boarding despite having completed the requested form.