Historic Agreement Reached: Closed Captions Will Be Mandatory for US Airline In-Flight Entertainment

December 12, 2016 BY PATRICK LOFTUS
Updated: February 22, 2023


A landmark agreement has just been reached between the US Department of Transportation (DOT), airlines, airplane manufacturers, video content providers, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), and other disability advocate groups.

Closed captioning will now be required for in-flight entertainment, making it accessible to deaf and hard of hearing passengers.

This announcement comes just weeks after the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a Final Rule stating that movie theaters must provide closed captions for people with impaired hearing, as well.

The agreed-upon airline closed captioning regulation recommendations can be found on the NAD’s website and are as follows:

  • All new in-flight entertainment systems, whether on newly delivered aircraft or newly-installed on existing aircraft, must be capable of supporting closed captions and audio descriptions as of the effective date of the final rule.
  • If an aircraft has inaccessible seatback in-flight entertainment systems, it must provide an alternative personal entertainment device (PED) with accessible comparable video content.
  • Airlines shall request from video content providers that 100% of covered in-flight entertainment content are closed-captioned and audio-described, and shall obtain such covered video content with closed captions and audio descriptions available from the content providers, including edited versions.
  • Airlines will need to provide users the ability to customize closed captions (font sizes, colors, etc.)

According to the NAD, other requirements mandate “accessible WiFi for blind and visually impaired passengers, information collection and reporting by the airlines, disclosure of accessibility options in advance of travel, and the provision of search filters and identifying icons.”

Today’s announcement stems from over 7 months of negotiations between members of the Advisory Committee on Accessible Air Transportation (ACCESS Advisory Committee). The committee was assembled by the DOT into three working groups, each meant to develop a proposed rule addressing accessible in-flight entertainment and communications, accessible lavatories, and service animals, respectively.

The DOT plans to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking based on the agreement in July 2017.

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