Why the Airlines in Canada and the US need a Strategic Approach to Accessibility

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) assessed a civil penalty of $2 million against Delta Air Lines in late 2011 for violating rules protecting air travelers with disabilities.  In the US there is a counterpart to the ADA specific to Air Carriers entitled ACAA or the Air Carriers Access Act. In May of 2009 the Department of Transportation (DOT) emended part of the ACAA which allowed for stricter standards for equal access for all airline passengers. Many of the new controls after that point also applied to Airports.

The DOT said this civil penalty is the largest penalty ever assessed against an airline in a non-safety-related case. “Ensuring that passengers with disabilities receive fair treatment when they fly is a priority for the Department of Transportation,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We take our aviation disability rules seriously and will continue to enforce them vigorously.”

The DOT requires airlines to provide assistance to passengers with disabilities while boarding and deplaning aircraft, including the use of wheelchairs, ramps, mechanical lifts and service personnel where needed. Carriers also must respond within 30 days to written complaints about their treatment of disabled passengers, and specifically address the issues raised in the complaints. In addition, airlines must properly code and record their disability-related complaints in connection with required reporting to the DOT.

An investigation by the DOT’s Aviation Enforcement Office of disability complaints filed with Delta and the DOT revealed many violations of the requirement to provide assistance getting on and off the airplane. The carrier’s complaint files also showed that it frequently did not provide an adequate written response to disability complaints from passengers. The Aviation Enforcement Office further found that Delta also failed to properly report each disability complaint in reports filed with the Department.

Of the of $2 million penalty, $750,000 must be paid by the carrier and up to $1,250,000 may be used to improve its service to passengers with disabilities beyond what is required by law. Delta may target up to $834,000 of the civil penalty amount toward the development and implementation of an automated wheelchair tracking system at the carrier’s major hub airports. Up to $236,000 was used toward developing and distributing customer service surveys for passengers with disabilities to rate Delta’s accommodation services and provide specific feedback to the carrier on how it can improve.

In addition, up to $150,000 was used to expand audits of the carrier’s compliance with Air Carrier Access Act rules and for consultation to help improve the quality of Delta’s services to passengers with disabilities at airports and up to $30,000 was used to enhance its website to improve air travel accessibility. The actual costs of these improvements by Delta were significantly greater than the credited amounts.

Lesson learned – whether your company is an airline or any other mode of transportation in Canada or the US, there is a requirement to ensure a strategic level of accessibility be fully instituted at all levels and all operations. In doing so not only are penalties such as this 2 million plus penalty won’t be levied but the reputation of your company and its future viability may be at stake. The accessibility experts at Optimal Performance can help your company achieve compliance and even develop Best Practices for all locations in which your company operates both in Canada and the US. Contact us at 1 888 768-2106 or AODA@OptimalPerformance.ca today for an initial meeting and discussion.

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