The Air Carrier Access Act requires airlines to designate one or more Complaints Resolution Officials (CROs) at each airport where they operate. CROs are expected to be the airline’s “experts” on ACAA regulations and compliance, and they must be empowered with “the authority to make dispositive resolution of complaints on behalf of the carrier.”

Summoning a Complaints Resolution Official

In any situation in which any person complains to airline personnel about discrimination, accommodations, or services concerning disabled passengers, and where airline personnel do not immediately resolve the issue to the customer’s satisfaction or provide a requested accommodation, the ACAA requires airline staff to immediately inform the passenger of the right to speak with a CRO.

This never happens. No agent at any airline has ever informed me of the existence of a CRO, or of my right to speak with one, despite having alleged discrimination due to ACAA violations on countless occasions. I have always had to request a CRO directly.

The CRO who turns up may not even be a designated CRO, or someone who has been trained in Air Carrier Access Act requirements. On one occasion, an American Airlines manager in Miami responded to the call for a CRO. When it became clear she was unfamiliar with the most basic ACAA requirements, I asked, “Are you really a CRO? Have you been given the CRO training?” She admitted to me that she was not actually a CRO, but was the only manager available to speak with me. Shocking, at one of the airline’s largest hub airports.

Some readers have also reported that many foreign carriers have not designated a CRO at airports where they are operating flights to/from United States, which is a violation.

Responsibilities of a CRO

Once the passenger has verified that they are indeed speaking with a duly appointed CRO, they will be afforded the opportunity to describe the issue they are experiencing or have experienced. Section §382.153 of the ACAA sets the following requirements on CROs and how they are to respond to passenger interactions:

  1. If the complaint is made to a CRO before the action or proposed action of carrier personnel has resulted in a violation of a provision of this part, the CRO must take, or direct other carrier personnel to take, whatever action is necessary to ensure compliance with this part.
  2. If an alleged violation of a provision of this part has already occurred, and the CRO agrees that a violation has occurred, the CRO must provide to the complainant a written statement setting forth a summary of the facts and what steps, if any, the carrier proposes to take in response to the violation.
  3. If the CRO determines that the carrier’s action does not violate a provision of this part, the CRO must provide to the complainant a written statement including a summary of the facts and the reasons, under this part, for the determination.
  4. The statements required to be provided under this section must inform the complainant of his or her right to pursue DOT enforcement action under this part. The CRO must provide the statement in person to the complainant at the airport if possible; otherwise, it must be forwarded to the complainant within 30 calendar days of the complaint.

In short, if you speak with a CRO and inform them that you believe your rights under the ACAA were violated, they must provide a written response within 30 calendar days.

Let me give you two examples: preboarding and prompt return of mobility equipment. When either of these rights have been violated, I request a CRO, and state specifically that “I allege that an ACAA violation has occurred.” This should start the clock on that CRO’s mandated response within 30 calendar days. But that response will never come. At least, not for the passengers of most airlines.

In discussing one such missing reply with the disability customer service staff at American Airlines, the agent was adamant that “no written response is required” for complaints made directly to a CRO, and that “we are only required to respond in writing to complaints sent by email.” Several CROs that I have spoken to in-person have concurred, telling me that the airline only requires an internal report that is not sent to the passenger (many CROs don’t even file that). In effect, American Airlines has trained its staff to violate §382.153(b) and (c), and passenger complaints concerning civil rights violations are being swept under the rug.

What you can do when a CRO fails to respond

Every airline disability manager I have spoken to has expressed their frustration with my advising readers to submit complaints directly to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Airlines cannot ignore the requirement to send timely responses to the DOT, or they would most certainly face fines which amount to nearly $30,000 per violation.

One of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2020 is to never hesitate in sending DOT complaints concerning ACAA violations. On the 31st day following a complaint lodged in-person with a CRO, if no written response has been received, I will turn directly to the DOT for enforcement action. I encourage you to do the same.

If airlines cannot get the small things right, they will continue to fail disabled passengers in big ways. Neither is acceptable, and we must hold airlines to account at every opportunity.

Featured image courtesy American Airlines.

Have you spoken with a CRO at the airport? Did you receive a written response within 30 days? Let me know in the comments below!

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