United has come in for more than its fair share of criticism lately, from travelers, from employees, from Wall Street. Now, the Department of Transportation can be added to the list of United-bashers.
According to a DOT statement:
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today fined United Airlines $2.75 million for violating the Department’s rules protecting air travelers with disabilities and for violating the Department’s rule prohibiting long tarmac delays. The airline was ordered to cease and desist from future similar violations.
The DOT action followed an uptick in complaints that United was providing inadequate assistance to disabled travelers at five airports: Chicago, Washington, D.C., Denver, Houston, and Newark. Plus, “the Enforcement Office’s investigation revealed that in numerous instances United failed to return passengers’ wheelchairs, other mobility aids, or other assistive devices in a timely manner or in the condition in which the airline received them.”
United’s shabby treatment of disabled flyers accounted for $2 million of the fine amount. The other $750,000 was to penalize United for six prolonged tarmac delays, five at Chicago O’Hare airport in December of 2013, and one at Houston airport in May 2015.
In all six cases, United flights remained stuck on the tarmac beyond the DOT-mandated three-hour limit, after which passengers must be allowed to deplane.
In addition to the time limit, airlines are required to provide flyers with adequate food and water, working lavatories, and any necessary medical attention in the event of lengthy tarmac delays.
Reader Reality Check
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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.
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