The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) assessed a civil penalty against AirTran Airways for violating rules protecting air travelers with disabilities. The carrier was assessed a civil penalty of $500,000, of which up to $200,000 may be used to improve its service to disabled passengers beyond what is required by law, the DOT said.
“People with disabilities have the right to expect fair treatment when they fly, and we will continue to take enforcement action when their rights are violated,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 requires airlines to provide assistance to passengers with disabilities in boarding and deplaning aircraft, including the use of wheelchairs, ramps, mechanical lifts or service personnel where needed.
DOT rules also require carriers to respond within 30 days to written complaints about their treatment of disabled passengers, and to specifically address the issues raised in the complaint. In addition, airlines must submit annual reports to the DOT on disability-related complaints from passengers, noting the type of disability and nature of the complaint.
An investigation by the DOT’s into disability complaints filed with AirTran and DOT revealed a number of violations of the requirement for boarding assistance. In addition, the carrier’s complaint files showed that it frequently did not provide an adequate written response to complaints from passengers. AirTran also failed to properly categorize disability complaints in reports filed with the Department, the Aviation Enforcement Office found.
Of the $500,000 penalty, up to $60,000 may be used to establish a council to help the carrier comply with federal disability rules and hire a manager for disability accommodations. Up to $140,000 may be used to develop and employ an automated wheelchair tracking system at AirTran’s major hub airports within one year that will generate real-time reports of the carrier’s wheelchair assistance performance, the DOT said.