by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW
The U.S. Department of Transportation has fined U.S. Airways $1.2 million in its failure to provide appropriate assistance to passengers with disabilities. This fine is the largest penalty ever issued by the Department regarding a disability case.
The Department of Transportation investigated over 300 complaints filed by passengers at the Philadelphia International Airport and the Charlotte Douglas International Airport (N.C.) that were reported in 2011 and 2012.
The issues of the complaints included the following: long delays and frequent transfers when passengers utilized the airport’s electric carts and wheelchairs; passengers being left unattended on planes for more than 15 minutes after other passengers have been escorted off the plane; passengers being taken to the wrong gates; passengers missing their connections to other flights due to delays in receiving assistance to board planes; passengers being left unattended in terminals for more than 30 minutes; and a host of other gross violations endured by passengers with disabilities.
All air travelers deserve to be treated equally and with respect, and this includes persons in wheelchairs and other passengers with disabilities, said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. We will continue to make sure that airlines comply with our rules and treat their passengers fairly.
(Quote from the Department of Transportation’s briefing)
Under the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 (ACAA), airlines are required to provide free and timely wheelchair assistance once requested by passengers with disabilities. This assistance includes aiding passengers when moving between gates and making connections to other flights. The Philadelphia and Charlotte airports were in clear violations of these provisions.
Here is break down of the $1.2 million fine: $700,000 is to be paid to the government by U.S. Airways, $280,000 is to be used to improve service coordination to passengers with disabilities by hiring managers to oversee this process, $80,000 to be designated to create a telephone line for communication assistance for passengers, $75,000 is to be spent on purchasing tablets that will be used to monitor assistance requests made by passengers, $35,000 for the compensation of passengers, and $30,000 for computer programming updates so that boarding passes will distinguish passengers who will need assistance upon boarding planes.
Some of you may recall this this is not the first story involving airlines and accessibility violations I have reported for Social Work Helper. In August 2013, I reported that Delta Airlines was being sued for alleged mistreatment of a disabled passenger. It seems that the “friendly skies” are anything but for travelers with disabilities. Airlines seem to be having a difficult time adhering to the federal policies regarding accommodations and accessibility that are clearly outlined by the government. The action taken by the Department of Transportation in its fining U.S. Airways may be the wake-up call airlines need to be more willing to provide the appropriate services and assistance passengers with disabilities are expected to receive under the law.
If any of you have endured unacceptable conditions and/or witness such gross misconduct while flying, please share your stories with me by sending an email to Vilissa@rampyourvoice.com, or by leaving a comment on my website. I have recently written an article about travelling with a disability, and it amazes me when companies are not compliant in providing reasonable services to those with disabilities. People with disabilities are on the move like never before; we should not be forced to slow down because there are companies that refuse to make accessibility a priority for ALL passengers.
(Featured headline image: Courtesy of Clutch Magazine.)