DOT Fines Southwest and Air China

gavelThe U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) reports it assessed a $150,000 civil penalty against Southwest Airlines for not responding in a timely manner to complaints filed by consumers, including passengers with disabilities, and for not adequately responding to the passengers’ specific complaints in its responses.  

“When airlines receive complaints from passengers, we expect them to provide prompt responses that appropriately answer the specific complaints,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “This is an important part of our work protecting the rights of passengers, and we will continue to take enforcement action when necessary.”

The Department’s Aviation Enforcement Office found that Southwest failed to respond in a timely manner to a large number of disability-related and other consumer complaints it received from June 2011 through January 2012 because of a problem with its website.  When it responded most were sent late, DOT said.  The responses also failed to contain information specifically required by DOT rules.

In related news the DOT reported that Air China violated federal rules last July by not making announcements every 30 minutes to passengers on an aircraft delayed at New York’s JFK International Airport that they had an opportunity to leave the plane as it sat at the gate with the door open. DOT fined Air China $90,000 and ordered the airline to cease and desist from further violations.

“Airline passengers have rights, including the right to be informed that they can leave a plane that is facing long delays at the gate,” said LaHood.  “Our tarmac rules are meant to protect passengers from being stuck on grounded aircraft for hours on end, and we will continue to work with airlines and airports to make sure that travelers are treated with the respect they deserve before, during, and after their flights.”

Air China Flight 982 was scheduled to fly from JFK to Beijing Capital International Airport on July 15, 2012.  The plane sat at the gate from 6:40 p.m. to 8:26 p.m. with the door open, but Air China failed to make the required announcements, DOT said. The aircraft did not take off for Beijing until 10:51 p.m.

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