When something goes wrong: Protecting your rights
- 1 When something goes wrong: Protecting your rights
- 2 The bottom line
Even the best laid plans can fail. No matter how carefully you plan and how proactive you are, it is possible that you might run into problems traveling with a disability. That’s why it’s imperative that you know what to do when something goes wrong so you can go about protecting your rights.
Airlines can refuse transportation if they determine that a would-be passenger’s presence would endanger the safety or health of other passengers, or that transporting the passenger would violate the safety rules of the FAA. This usually intersects with the rights of people with disabilities when airline personnel determine that a passenger cannot assist themselves adequately.
Airline personnel cannot ask about your specific disability. They can, however, ask questions about your ability to perform specific tasks and functions that are directly related to air travel, such as walking through the airport, boarding, or deplaning. Having difficulty with one or all of these tasks is not enough for a carrier to refuse you the right to travel. Instead, the airline must be able to specifically point to how your presence on board would affect the safety of all of the passengers.
Unfortunately, they can deny you the ability to board, and they don’t have to give you the reason until the next day. If you think the airline is violating your rights and/or breaking the law, and you have been unable to resolve the matter after discussing it with airline personnel, it is critical that you take other steps protecting your rights.
Protecting your rights: ask to speak with the Complaints Resolution Official (CRO)
All airlines are required to have a Complaints Resolution Official (CRO). This is someone who is always available immediately to resolve disagreements. You have the right to speak to a CRO, who has authority to resolve complaints on behalf of the airline, if you feel the airline is not following the ACAA rules.
It is the job of the CRO to know the ACAA’s requirements and its implementing regulations inside and out. They are also tasked with knowing each of the airline’s disability procedures. The CRO has the authority to resolve complaints and speak for the airline, and can overrule decisions made by other personnel, with the exception of decisions based on safety considerations made by the pilot-in-command of an aircraft.
If the CRO receives a complaint before the airline takes action (or fails to take action) resulting in a violation of the ACAA, the CRO is required to take any action or direct others to take any action needed to ensure compliance. If there has already been a violation and the CRO agrees, he or she must set forth the facts in a written statement including details of what steps the airline proposes to take in response to the violation. All CROs know that these statements are an essential piece of the legal steps you as a person with disabilities must take in protecting your rights, so they will know to make their statement as detailed as possible. However, if the statement seems to lack detail, tell them to elaborate.
If the CRO finds that there was no violation of the ACAA, he or she must provide a written statement including the facts and the reasons for his or her decision. This written statement must inform the passenger about his or her right to pursue enforcement from the Department of Transportation (DOT). Ideally the statement should be provided to the passenger on the spot at the airport, but in any case it must be provided within 30 calendar days.
Protecting your rights: ask the CRO to confirm his/her decision with the pilot
Because the pilot does have the last word on safety matters, asking the CRO to confirm his or her decision with the pilot is the next step in protecting your rights. You may even force a reconsideration of the matter.
Protecting your rights: complain in writing to the carrier
You should complain in writing immediately if your issue is not resolved, but in any cause you must complain within 45 days or the airline is no longer required to respond. Written complaints can be transmitted in any form, including electronic message, email, fax, or letter. In your complaint, state whether you contacted a CRO, and provide that person’s name, the date you contacted them, and any written response you received. Remember that following these rules and adhering to the deadlines is essential to protecting your rights.
The airline must respond within 30 days with a written response admitting or denying that a violation occurred. The response must include a summary of the facts. If they admit a violation occurred, the response should also detail the corrective steps that will be taken. If they deny that a violation occurred, the response should set forth the reasons for their decision. Any response must also inform you of the right to pursue enforcement by the DOT.
Contact the DOT
If you are not satisfied with the airline’s response, contact the DOT’s consumer protection hotline at 1-800-778-4838 (voice) or 1-800-455-9880 (TTY). It is open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM Eastern time, Monday through Friday, except federal holidays. The hotline offers consumer information about the rights of disabled air travelers.
If you think that an airline has violated the ACAA or any of its implementing regulations, you must seek assistance or file an informal complaint with the DOT within six months of the incident. You can do this two ways:
Visit the DOT’s Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings – Aviation Consumer Protection Division at www.dot.gov/airconsumer/file-consumer-complaint and select “Disability and Discrimination Complaints,” or
Aviation Consumer Protection Division
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20590
No one wants to feel unwelcome, or that they can’t freely travel as they wish. Know your rights before you fly, and plan ahead when you’re traveling. This is sound advice for anyone, but it is especially important for people with disabilities.