British Airways, Air France and Lufthansa have been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars by the US Department of Transportation (DOT), a federal cabinet department of the US government concerned with transportation. This follows the three airlines failing to respond adequately to complaints filed by disabled passengers between 2012 and 2015.
While Air France and Lufthansa have been fined $200,000 (£140,800, €177,235) each, BA has been fined $150,000. All three airlines have agreed to settle the allegations by paying the penalties.
BA said it would pay half of its fine within a month, and the remaining if it fails to handle complaints adequately for the next year. Lufthansa too has agreed to a similar arrangement. Air France, however, agreed to pay $140,000 in instalments to the DOT, apart from offering to provide vouchers and frequent flier miles to passengers who had filed the complaints.
Disabled flyers are protected by the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). This act prohibits commercial airlines from discriminating against passengers with disabilities. Hence, DOT requires airlines to response to a written complaint within 30 days of receiving the complaint; else it would be considered a violation of the ACAA. Moreover, the response is expected to state that the complaint has been looked into.
Anthony Foxx, US Transportation Secretary said: "When air travellers file complaints with airlines, they deserve prompt and complete responses that appropriately answer their specific concerns. We will continue to take enforcement action when airlines violate our rules protecting the rights of passengers."
DOT alleged that these three airlines failed to adhere to these rules many times. In the case of British Airways, DOT claimed that in 2012 the airline failed to compile the facts made in complaints and also failed to admit or deny whether a violation had occurred in their responses to passengers who filed the complaints.
It alleged that Air France also committed a similar mistake in 2013. DOT alleged that the three airlines failed to inform travellers the process involved in pursuing an enforcement action through the DOT.