In a week that saw a heart-warming story when 7 first-class passengers on an American Airlines flight gave up their seats for Marines returning from service in Afghanistan, there was also a disturbing story involving US Airways.
The airline was recently hit with a $1.2 million fine from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) for failing to provide adequate wheelchair assistance to passengers in Philadelphia and Charlotte, NC.
The department said it was one of the largest fines it ever assessed in a disability case.
Under the DOT rules for implementing the Air Carrier Access Act, airlines are required to offer free and prompt wheelchair assistance upon request to passengers with disabilities, including helping passengers move between gates and make connections with other flights. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement, “All air travelers deserve to be treated equally and with respect, and this includes persons in wheelchairs and other passengers with disabilities”.
According to the details behind the hefty fine, between 2011 and 2012, US Airways was guilty of a number of violations for wheelchair assistance at Philadelphia International Airport and Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The violations were discovered by the DOT’s Aviation Enforcement Office that reviewed 300 complaints filed against US Airways.
The review found that the two airports had used a combination of electric carts and wheelchairs to carry passengers between gates required frequent transfers and led to long delays, and in some cases, missed connections and passengers left unattended for long periods of time.
US Airways has responded quickly to the fine and pledges to improve accessibility for disabled passengers including new airport signage and handheld devices, tablets and dispatching software that will allow employees to track the needs and wait time of customers and availability of personnel and wheelchairs as well as more customer assistance representatives and managers to oversee the needs of disabled passengers.
Michelle Mohr, a spokeswoman for US Airways, told Forbes that the airline is committed to serving passengers with disabilities and has implemented many improvements to its disability assistance program since the complaints. HDS MEDALLION® truly hopes so!