Q: Where do I send airline disability complaints? Will the government protect my rights?
Airlines violate the Air Carrier Access Act at the expense of disabled travelers every day. Most travelers take these violations in stride and put the negative experiences behind them. As a result, airlines have little incentive to comply with the law. This article outlines the process for enforcing your rights under the ACAA and holding airlines responsible for any violations.
If you are unfamiliar with the ACAA, please read the Summary of wheelchair travelers' rights under the Air Carrier Access Act. The linked article will bring you up to speed on the accessibility accommodations and services disabled passengers are entitled to in airports and on aircraft.
When violations occur, passengers should report the violation to the airline within 45 days. This is best done through a comment or complaint form on the carrier's website. This allows for the airline to respond in writing and creates a paper trail.
Most often, you will receive largely canned response apologizing for your inconvenience, promising to forward your concerns to the airline's leadership and offering some sort of compensation. This compensation could be loyalty program points/miles or a monetary voucher for use on the purchase of a future flight with the airline. Compensation is nice and can be useful, but does little to ensure that the ACAA violations will not be repeated on future flights taken by you or other disabled travelers.
Any response to an e-mail complaint about disabled services will be followed by a short, one-sentence reminder that you may report the matter to the United States Department of Transportation. You should do this. Violations which are not forwarded to the DOT by the passenger are not investigated by the DOT. This means that the United States government is unable to levy enforcement action on the airline.
After you have received a response to your complaint with the airline, you may file a complaint with the DOT at www.transportation.gov. This allows the agency to investigate violations of the ACAA, impose sanctions, and require the airline to demonstrate efforts to prevent future violations. Every complaint and violation is logged in the USDOT's monthly and yearly Air Travel Consumer Reports. In the entire year of 204, only 625 complaints relating to the ACAA were filed with the DOT for U.S. airlines. This number is low not because of a lack of problems, but because passengers made no effort to seek enforcement by the DOT.
Until violations of the ACAA become bad for business, airlines will continue to skirt the regulations. The DOT has the power to levy substantial fines against airlines, but only in response to clear, repetitive violations of passenger rights. If your rights have been violated by an airline, report it to the Department of Transportation.
Additional information for reaching the DOT is available below:
United States Department of Transportation
Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings
Aviation Consumer Protection Division
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
(202) 366-0511 (TTY)
File a complaint via web form:
Printable PDF Complaint Documents: