The Department of Transportation (DOT) has levied a $500,000 fine against AirTran for violating procedures regarding disabled passengers. In a statement, the DOT said its investigation "revealed a number of violations of the requirement 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. AirTran also failed to properly categorize disability complaints in reports filed with the Department, the Aviation Enforcement Office found."
The DOT said $200,000 of the $500,000 fine may be used by AirTran to improve its service to disabled passengers "beyond what is required by law." More specifically, the DOT says "up to $60,000 may be used to establish a council to help the carrier comply with federal disability rules and hire a manager for disability accommodations. 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."
The violations stem from rules laid out in the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986. According to the DOT, the legislation "requires airlines to provide assistance to passengers with disabilities in boarding and deplaning aircraft, including the use of wheelchairs, ramps, mechanical lifts or service personnel where needed. U.S. Department of Transportation rules also require carriers to respond within 30 days to written complaints about their treatment of disabled passengers, and to specifically address the issues raised in the complaint. In addition, airlines must submit annual reports to the Department on disability-related complaints from passengers, noting the type of disability and nature of the complaint."
There's not much to add here except that I'm glad the DOT is looking out for disabled passengers. I've mentioned before that I have a sister in a wheelchair and I can tell you from personal experience that boarding and deplaning a disabled individual is difficult enough even when you have adequate assistance from the airline. The DOT's wording is too vague to determine exactly how AirTran violated the requirements for boarding assistance, but it should go without saying that assisting disabled passengers will likely be a priority for the airline henceforth.