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What happens when airlines violate the Air Carrier Access Act (the ADA of the skies)

In May of 2009, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA, 1986) was amended expanding upon the rights for travelers with disabilities under what is labeled DOT 14 CFR part 382 (382).

382 came in with dozens of new rules and a hefty fine system for violating them. Just one violation of 382 can bring down a $27,500 fine (yes that # is right) on the airline, and the violations usually occur in multiple areas so the fine amount is never that low.

Before the new amendments were adopted, many airlines were fined, especially in the year 2003, when the DOT found that America West Airlines, JetBlue Airways, and Southwest Airlines violated the ACAA by failing to provide a stowage space for standard-size folding wheelchairs inside the cabins of their aircraft.

But since last year's 382, airlines have been fined in increasing amounts, and yet many airlines still fail to improve upon their training of handling customers with disabilities and their equipment, nor have they beefed up awareness of these new rules and rights for their employees. Without the proper training, the employee ignorance is somewhat excusable, so the responsibility fall on the airline executives and trainers, not the employees themselves. Some of these airlines have been correcting their training, such as Continental, Southwest, and American, but most have not yet.

In January of 2010, TAM Linhas Aereas was fined first and least, at $5000, for incorrectly filing annual reports detailing disability-related complalints that the foreign complaints from passengers during 2007-08.

Along the same lines, in May of 2010, The DOT assessed a civil penalty against Continental Airlines for filing incomplete reports with the Department tabulating complaints that passengers with disabilities registered with the carrier. Continental was ordered to cease and desist from further violations and assessed a civil penalty of $100,000.

In August 2010 AirTran was one of the largest fines to date, totaling $500,000. The DOT found several violations against the requirements 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. DOT said up to $200,000 of the airline's fine "may be used to improve its service to disabled passengers beyond what is required by law" including using up to $140,000 to "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."

Additional airlines are being reviewed for recent violations and readers will likely see increasingly more fines in 2011 due to the still existing lack of understanding and awareness of 382. If passenger awareness grows faster than employee awareness, the sliding scale will be out of balance for quite some time.

Know which airlines make mistakes, and which airlines take care of their customers. Protect your rights AND your equipment by patronizing those who care to go above and beyond the ACAA. View past legal cases against the airlines here.

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