Laws protecting the rights of people with disabilities can get confusing. For example, accessibility at the airport (parking, retail shops, restaurants, etc.) is covered by the ADA. But, when it comes to the actual air travel, it’s the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), enforced by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation (DOT) that provides the rules & regulations.
Major airlines, all too frequently, find themselves facing charges of disability discrimination. And now, Frontier Airlines joins them with a recent fine of $50,000 for violating the ACAA. Denver-based Frontier operates flights to and from Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
A passenger, who couldn’t use his arms, legs or torso, and was unable to sit upright without support & restraint (quadriplegia), wasn’t told that FAA rules prohibit the use of seat belt extenders as restraint devices for the upper body. Frontier not only failed to notify the passenger of the FAA rule in advance of his return on a round-trip ticket, but had allowed him to use the extenders on three previous flights, including his recent outbound flight. The passenger was removed from his return flight because he didn’t have an alternative restraint method so he could sit upright.
Frontier also failed to provide the passenger with adequate pre-boarding assistance as well as with help getting on and off the plane despite receiving notice that assistance would be needed prior to his flight.
The ACAA is very clear that airlines are required to provide assistance to passengers with disabilities while boarding & deplaning aircraft, including the use of wheelchairs, ramps, mechanical lifts and service personnel when needed.
In January, Miramar-based Spirit Airlines was fined $100,000 for violating similar DOT rules protecting air travelers with disabilities. In Spirit’s case, the carrier did not appropriately record and respond to complaints in 2009 and 2010 about its treatment of passengers with disabilities.
Passengers with disabilities are customers of the airlines...and customers with disabilities means business. In fact, spending by travelers with disabilities exceeds $13.6 billion annually. Airlines cannot afford to ignore this growing segment of people worldwide. Education and effective training for all employees, regardless of their industry, is key to broadening a business's customer base in order to bring about a sustainable competitive advantage.
This information should not be construed as “legal advice” for a particular set of facts or circumstances. It is intended only to be a practical guide for participants familiar with this subject. Users should seek appropriate legal advice tailored to address their specific situation.