AirTran fined for its handling of passengers in wheelchairs

The U.S. Department of Transportation fined AirTran Airways $500,000 for violating laws on handling passengers who must use wheelchairs.

In the enforcement action announced Monday, the DOT found that:

* A review of AirTran’s records indicated that it had “a significant number of apparent violations” of the Air Carrier Access Act.* “A small number of these complaints appear to involve egregious violations…”

* “…In numerous instances, it did not provide a written response to the complainant,” as required by law.

* AirTran failed “to adequately categorize and account for all the disability-related issues that were raised in the complaints.”

In response, AirTran stated:

“We are dedicated to treating special needs passengers with the highest level of dignity and respect. Our goal is to establish AirTran Airways as the industry leader in addressing the needs of disabled passengers. We take this leadership role seriously and look forward to continually improving our service to this important group of customers”

DOT said AirTran can reduce its fine up to $200,000 by spending a similar amount to improve its system.

That includes up to $60,000 “to establish a council to help the carrier comply with federal disability rules and hire a manager for disability accommodations.”

The rest, up to $140,000, “may be used to develop and 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.”

Below, we have the rest of AirTran’s statement.

Our first priority has always been the safety and comfort of all of our customers. During the past three years, more than 920,000 passengers with disabilities have enjoyed our high-quality, low-cost service. During that time, less than one half of one percent of these customers has reported any type of issue to either the Department of Transportation or the airline.The overwhelming majority of issues reported by disabled passengers is in relation to the quick availability of wheelchairs. We are working diligently to correct this by implementing a real-time wheelchair tracking system at our biggest operations (ATL, BWI, MCO, MKE) to ensure timely availability of wheelchairs and continuous monitoring of our performance.

While the number of special needs passengers not fully satisfied with our service is less than one half of one percent of all disabled passengers that have flown with us over the past three years, we constantly strive to improve our service and are dedicated to making a good flying experience even better for all of our customers.

Proactive steps we are taking to improve the quality of our customer service as it relates to special needs passengers:

• We are implementing several initiatives to continue to enhance our ability to serve special needs passengers with the highest level of dignity and care. They include:- Establishing a cross-divisional Disability Compliance Council. This group, comprised of AirTran senior officers, will oversee, manage and continually improve all aspects of our disability compliance programs and act as an advocate for special needs customers at the highest level of the company.

– Creating a new, dedicated position (Manager of Disability Accommodations), to proactively address the needs of disabled passengers and focus exclusively on continually improving our ability to serve this important group of customers.

– Developing a special needs-specific digital curriculum to ensure that all frontline Crew Members are familiar with proper handling requirements and techniques in assisting special needs passengers.

Improving our ability to respond to complaints:

• We are greatly enhancing our ability to respond to questions and comments from special needs passengers by:- Creating a dedicated position to respond directly to disability-related complaints and establishing a comprehensive audit methodology of each response.

– Revising training procedures for responding to complaints from special needs customers in a timely and comprehensive manner.

– Developing an automated wheelchair tracking system for use in our hub operations of Atlanta, Baltimore, Milwaukee and Orlando. This system will allow us to continuously monitor our own performance and to respond to passenger issues with greater detail more quickly than ever before.

By, Terry Maxon/Reporter

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