The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) fined US Airways $1.2 million for failing to provide adequate wheelchair assistance to passengers in Philadelphia and Charlotte, N.C. The fine is one of the largest ever assessed by DOT in a disability case, the agency said.
“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.”
Under DOT’s rules implementing the Air Carrier Access Act, airlines are required to provide free, prompt wheelchair assistance upon request to passengers with disabilities. This includes helping passengers to move between gates and make connections to other flights.
In one of its periodic reviews of airline compliance with DOT rules, the Department’s Aviation Enforcement Office said it found that US Airways committed a significant number of violations of the requirements for wheelchair assistance during 2011 and 2012 at Philadelphia International Airport and Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
As part of its review, the Enforcement Office examined approximately 300 complaints filed by passengers with the airline and DOT relating to incidents at Philadelphia and Charlotte, which covered only a sample of complaints filed over two years against US Airways for the two airports.
The airline’s use of a combination of electric carts and wheelchairs to carry passengers between gates required frequent transfers and led to long delays. Some passengers missed connections because of the delays or were left unattended for long periods of time, DOT said.
Of the $1.2 million fine, US Airways may use up to $500,000 for improvements in its service to passengers with disabilities that are beyond what DOT rules require. These include hiring managers to ensure the quality of the airline’s disability services in Philadelphia and Charlotte, creating a telephone line to assist these passengers, purchasing tablets and other equipment to monitor assistance requests, providing compensation to passengers with disability-related complaints, and programming the airline’s computers so that boarding passes identify passengers who request special services, DOT said.