Will $2 Million Finally Make Delta Wake up And Serve Disabled Passengers?

Earlier today the Department of Transportation (DOT) instituted a record-breaking $2 million fine against Delta Airlines for violating several sections of the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). To date, it’s the largest fine ever levied against an airline for ACAA violations. Why did the DOT take such a hard line? For two reasons. First, this was the latest in a long list of ACAA violations for the carrier. Second — and probably more important — the DOT considers the recent violations “egregious”.

First a little history on Delta and their ACAA problems. It all started back in 2003, when the DOT issued Delta a consent order for numerous ACAA violations. As part of the agreement to mitigate damages, Delta agreed to adopt significant measures to improve service for disabled passengers. Apparently those measures didn’t work out so well, because the DOT later noted an increase in the number of disability-related complaints against the carrier.

Personally, I think the DOT was hoping for better.

Fast forward to 2011, when just last month the DOT levied a $125,000 fine against Mesaba Airlines (a Delta Connection carrier) for failing to provide disabled passengers with wheelchairs, ramps or mechanical lifts and for leaving non-ambulatory passengers unattended in airport wheelchairs for more than 30 minutes.

Which brings me to the consent order issued today. Low and behold it’s for the exact same ACAA violations that Mesaba was nailed for last month. So perhaps the DOT sensed that a pattern was emerging? One that they wanted to quash.

And then there is the e-word — egregious — which is how the DOT described Delta’s most recent violations. The Aviation Safety Office considers these type of complaints to fall under that category.

  • Leaving a disabled passenger unattended on an airplane, for over 15 minutes after the other passengers have deplaned.
  • Leaving a non-ambulatory passenger unattended in an airport wheelchair for over 30 minutes.
  • Failing to provide wheelchair service or assistance as requested, or delaying that assistance so much that it causes a passenger to miss a flight.
  • Leaving a passenger at the wrong gate, causing him to miss his flight.
  • Making a passenger wait for an hour or more for a wheelchair in the terminal.
  • Any instance where a passenger is subjected to a significant delay, harm or inconvenience because of inadequate assistance.

So will Delta change its ways? It’s hard to say. Technically only $750,000 of the fine is directly payable to the feds. The rest will be credited to Delta for implementing the following access upgrades.

  • $834,000 for an automated tracking system for airport wheelchair requests at Delta’s major hubs.
  • $236,000 for a customer service survey to disabled passengers.
  • $150,000 for expanded corporate level ACAA compliance.
  • $30,000 for website improvements that will allow customers to request a wheelchair online, give them realistic connecting times, tell them what to expect at the airport and provide them with a video detailing the deplaning process.

So in the end a little goes to the government and a big chunk goes back into Delta to ramp up their service to disabled passengers. Let’s hope it works!