An extensive review of airlines by the Government Accountability Office has found that disability-related complaints are on the rise, outpacing the passenger growth in air travel during the period 2005-2015. This should not come as a surprise, as I have written about the many ways airlines discriminate against passengers with disabilities. With Air Carrier Access Act violations occurring on a frequent basis, the Aviation Consumer Protection Division of the U.S. Department of Transportation has failed to enforce the law.

Increasing Number of Disability Complaints

The GAO analyzed complaints sent directly to the DOT, as well as those filed only with the offending airline. In 2005, 511 disability complaints were sent to the DOT and 13,584 were sent to the airlines. In that year, there were 745,579,572 total passenger enplanements, suggesting one disability complaint was filed with airlines for every 54,886 passengers.

Moving forward to 2015, the GAO found that 944 disability-related complaints were filed with the DOT and 30,829 were directed to the air carriers. With a total of 805,673,910 passenger enplanements for the year, that ratio was one disability complaint for every 26,133 passengers.

Thus, even after accounting for the growth in the number of air travelers between 2005 and 2015, the frequency of disability complaints more than doubled in ten years. If you have read any of my reporting on disability discrimination in air travel, this should not come as a surprise. Airlines are taking every opportunity to skirt a law which has been in effect for more than 30 years, and the DOT is doing little to deter this discriminatory behavior.

DOT only pursues “egregious” ACAA violations

The GAO found in its investigation of the DOT that the agency takes action on consumer complaints based on whether or not they constitute an “egregious” violation. This explains why the DOT never takes action on my complaints about delayed or damaged mobility equipment. It also confirms my thesis in this article, where I accused the DOT of only going after cases that create a viral news story.

Thus, if you don’t run to the media or crawl off a United Airlines plane, the DOT will never stand up for your equal access rights to air travel.

Final Thoughts

Although this article stands out as another damnation of the DOT’s treatment of air travelers with disabilities, I must continue to encourage filing complaints directly with that agency. If we continue to collaborate and work to expose the DOT, Congress will be forced to act.

Passengers with disabilities pay the same as their able-bodied peers, but are routinely inconvenienced by the airlines. Let’s continue to shine a light on these injustices and discrimination to make air travel with a disability better in the future.

If you are interested in reading the full GAO report, click here (PDF).

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