United Airlines Fined $2.75M for Disabilities Complaints
WASHINGTON – United Airlines was fined $2.75 million for violating rules governing the treatment of passengers with disabilities and for excessive tarmac delays, the Transportation Department announced Thursday.
The $2 million disabilities fine stemmed from a rise in complaints in 2014 about the lack of airline assistance getting passengers onto and off of planes promptly at Houston International, Chicago O’Hare, Denver, Newark andWashington Dulles airports, the department said.
Airlines are supposed to stow wheelchairs and other mobility aids in a plane’s baggage compartment if there is no room in the cabin. But federal investigators found that United repeatedly failed to return wheelchairs and other mobility aids to passengers, or to provide assistance in a timely manner, according to the consent agreement with the airline.
“It is our duty to ensure that travelers with disabilities have access to the services they need, and that when significant tarmac delays happen, travelers are not left on the plane,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “We will make sure that airlines comply with our rules and treat their passengers fairly.”
United said that it receives 1 million requests for wheelchair assistance each year and strives to provide the service as seamlessly as possible. But the airline acknowledged that passengers have asked for better treatment.
“We want you to know that providing convenient, comfortable and flyer-friendly service to all of our customers is one of our top priorities, and we are committed to meeting all DOT rules,” United said in a blog post Thursday on its website. “And while we’ve made significant efforts to improve, we remain focused on doing better.”
The department required United to pay $700,000 of the fine within 30 days. United was also credited for $650,000 in compensation already given disabled passengers who filed complaints in 2014.
As another part of the fine, United agreed to spend $150,000 improving its audits to better check the assistance that wheelchair vendors provide and $500,000 on an experimental program to develop better technology to assist passengers through the airline’s mobile app. The steps must be completed by Sept. 1, 2017, under the agreement.
Even before the agreement, the spent $3.8 million on wheelchair lifts for airports in Newark, Houston, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Orlando, according to the agreement. The airline said it will spend another $1.5 million on the facilities this year.
“We expect this to greatly improve our ability to have wheelchairs where they need to be, when they need to be there, so that our customers can get on their way home or to their next destination with ease,” said Jon Roitman, United’s senior vice president of airport operations.