Friday, October 29, 2010

What happens when airlines violate the Air Carrier Access Act (the ADA of the skies)

In May of 2009, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA, 1986) was amended expanding upon the rights for travelers with disabilities under what is labeled DOT 14 CFR part 382 (382).

382 came in with dozens of new rules and a hefty fine system for violating them. Just one violation of 382 can bring down a $27,500 fine (yes that # is right) on the airline, and the violations usually occur in multiple areas so the fine amount is never that low.

Before the new amendments were adopted, many airlines were fined, especially in the year 2003, when the DOT found that America West Airlines, JetBlue Airways, and Southwest Airlines violated the ACAA by failing to provide a stowage space for standard-size folding wheelchairs inside the cabins of their aircraft.

But since last year's 382, airlines have been fined in increasing amounts, and yet many airlines still fail to improve upon their training of handling customers with disabilities and their equipment, nor have they beefed up awareness of these new rules and rights for their employees. Without the proper training, the employee ignorance is somewhat excusable, so the responsibility fall on the airline executives and trainers, not the employees themselves. Some of these airlines have been correcting their training, such as Continental, Southwest, and American, but most have not yet.

In January of 2010, TAM Linhas Aereas was fined first and least, at $5000, for incorrectly filing annual reports detailing disability-related complalints that the foreign complaints from passengers during 2007-08. 

Along the same lines, in May of 2010, The DOT assessed a civil penalty against Continental Airlines for filing incomplete reports with the Department tabulating complaints that passengers with disabilities registered with the carrier. Continental was ordered to cease and desist from further violations and assessed a civil penalty of $100,000.

In August 2010 AirTran was one of the largest fines to date, totaling $500,000. The DOT found several violations against the requirements 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. DOT said up to $200,000 of the airline's fine "may be used to improve its service to disabled passengers beyond what is required by law" including using up to $140,000 to "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."

Additional airlines are being reviewed for recent violations and readers will likely see increasingly more fines in 2011 due to the still existing lack of understanding and awareness of 382.  If passenger awareness grows faster than employee awareness, the sliding scale will be out of balance for quite some time.   

Know which airlines make mistakes, and which airlines take care of their customers. Protect your rights AND your equipment by patronizing those who care to go above and beyond the ACAA. View past legal cases against the airlines here.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Universal Access in Airports Conference

Houston, TX
October 19-20, 2010

The Open Doors Organization (ODO) out of Chicago, IL hosted its bi-annual (/2yrs) Universal Access in Airports Conference at the Crown Plaza Houston Downtown this week, welcoming over 100 airline, airport, government, and service provider personnel to come together and present on vital topics on accessibility for travelers with disabilities such as legal rights, technology, service animal relief areas, websites, emergency preparedness, and training. 

These topics are of vital importance now and even more so in the coming years; as of January 1st, the 79 million baby boomers in the US alone will start turning 65 at an alarming rate of 10,000 per day.  By 2020 50% of that group will be traveling with a disability.  Just five years later, that number will grow to 75% and will make up 40% of the public that travels by air.  By the year 2050, 25-30% of the international population will be over 60 as well.  Improving airports' and airlines' accessibility will not be optional, it will be vital.  Assisting the these providers to get on the right track now, instead of playing catch-up later, will be a matter of survival for the companies.

Because these past two days had so much important information to report on, we will take this space to update you on the various topics touched upon in this conference over the remaining weeks of 2010. But the largest message we personally took away from this conference was that while these organizations may not appear fully accessible to you now, they ALL desire to go above and beyond the requirements of the legal requirements.  They collectively see the gaps in universal design across the board and are eager to learn how to make this type of travel as seemless as possible for traveler.  They are eager to work with companies and consultants who are excelling- some of these are not even US agencies and examples. 

We are proud to be a part of this progress; it was an absolute pleasure meeting the various airport Customer Service Coordinators, Disability Outreach Officers, Boeing Engineers, and US Access Board Accessibility Specialists.  This was a room full of bright minds, progressive thinkers, and dedicated researchers, who WILL change this world in the near future.  We're excited to share the progress with you over the next few weeks.

Friday, October 15, 2010

President Obama Signs Twenty-First Century Communications & Video Accessibility Act

reprint from the blog, October 8

Today President Obama signed into law the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010. This law will ensure that Americans with disabilities can more fully participate in society and enjoy all that new technologies have to offer--especially Internet-based and mobile services.

The new law will make it easier for people who are deaf, blind or have low vision to access the Internet, smart phones, television programming and other communications and video technologies. The law will also make sure that emergency information is accessible to individuals who are blind or have low vision. In addition, $10 million per year will be allocated from the Interstate Relay Service Fund for equipment used by individuals who are deaf-blind. For more information read What S.3304 Does For Us from the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology.

Visit for more information about accessible technology.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Continental Airlines Customers with Disabilities Advisory Board says goodbye to an era

Houston, TX
October 6-7, 2010
Continental Airlines officially merged with
United Airlines on October 1, 2010

It has been our highest honor to sit on the Continental Airlines Customers with Disabilities Advisory Board (CACDAB) since 2008. When approached three years ago by
Customer First and Regulatory Programs Manager Bill Burnell and his team, we leapt at the opportunity to help make a difference for one of our favorite travel providers. This company has always had the contagious postitive attitude towards PWD and act as family taking care of you on the road. The company's long-term dedication to going above and beyond the regulations for handling customers with disabilities is applaudable. Therefore to be one of their advisors on the topic is the hugest honor one could have.

We were invited to
visit Northwest's board in early 2008 in Detroit just before their merger with Delta, and subsequent dissolvement, and as Burnell always says, we learned what not to do. From there Continental gathered an all-star team of representatives from the travelers with disabilities community, representing as many disabilities as possible including many levels of physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities. Each meeting the Continental crowd would grow larger and larger, with multiple employees from dozens of departments coming to listen, give input, and learn at these extremely productive and educational meetings.

This Wednesday, during the board's fifth and final pow-wow under the Continental name, the crowd grew to about 80 eager bodies including the board, Burnell's super team, a first-time appearance from the Pilot's Department and smaller regional airports, and three United
Managers. The morning opened with a surprisingly heart-warming speech about marriage from Vice President of Airport Operations and Planning, Cindy Szadokierski, of "the New United," former French teacher who got the "jet fuel in [her] blood" used phrases like "team effort," "leaving the past stigma behind," and closed with Craig's favorite line of the two days, "at the next meeting."

As board members, we applaud the United team for sitting in open minded durin
g this final and therefore sometimes emotional meeting, as the new step sisters and brothers to this family who has laughed and cried together for two years now. Their input was invaluable, and their note taking did not go by unnoticed. Hopefully this board can only continue to grow in the most beneficial ways as possible during this merger.

What the next year will look like:

You will start to see the airplanes and uniforms merging, with
Continental's logo remaining on the tail and the United name down the body of the aircrafts (above). Pins combining both were handed out to employees.
Mileage points rewards programs will merge.
In the spring of 2011 on "Customer Day One" the policies will merge and customers will "feel a more streamlined experience."
Next, the FAA certificate as one formal airline will be awarded.
United is still "committed to Continental's slogan of
"Offering the highest standard of clean, safe, reliable (and accessible) transportation."
The New United will become the largest, most powerful, and hopefully the most accessible airline in the world.

What has happened since March 2010:
Continental Update
  • Stopped offering medical oxygen for rent and have approved 13 kinds of Personal Oxygen Containers (POC) for passengers to bring onboard. Also hosted POC Awareness Day.
  • Ventilators now approved above 10,000 feet and when applicable can use onboard power to charge.
  • The "Disability Quarterly" with articles from board members and passengers with personal stories receives hundreds of emails in response per issue.
  • Continuing to educate and and merge policies with International Partners.
  • Animal Relief Areas (guide dog potties) now listed on airport maps.
  • Many airport ground crews received mobility equipment handling workshops to reduce annual damage expense.
  • CACDAB's partners TSA, STAXI, and wheelchair providers have also made several changes to how they operate based on the CDAB's suggestions and experience.

It will take some time for this merger to shake out into a product that we all love and company we all patronize, but we are optimistic, and we hope you will be too.

Thanks to Continental for introducing us to an amazing team of dedicated employees and board members.

More on CACDAB and airline travel
May 2009, TWD's updated rights