The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today assessed a civil penalty against Virgin America for filing incomplete reports with the Department about complaints registered by passengers with disabilities and for not responding adequately to these complaints. The carrier was ordered to cease and desist from further violations and assessed a civil penalty of $100,000.
“We expect airlines to respond individually to disability-related complaints and to report those complaints to us,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “These are important parts of our rules protecting the rights of passengers, and we will continue to take enforcement action when they are violated.”
DOT rules require airlines to record disability-related complaints, categorize them by the type of disability and nature of the complaint, and submit an annual report on these complaints to the Department. If a single consumer correspondence covers more than one issue, each issue must be counted as a separate complaint. In addition, if an airline receives a written complaint alleging a violation of the Department’s disability rules, the carrier must provide a written response within 30 days that specifically discusses the complaint, gives the carrier’s view of whether a violation occurred, and states that the complaint may be referred to DOT for an investigation.
In July 2011, the Department’s Aviation Enforcement Office conducted a routine on-site inspection at Virgin America’s corporate headquarters, where it reviewed all disability-related complaints received by the carrier. The Enforcement Office found that in many instances, Virgin America failed to provide a written response that addressed the consumer’s complaint. In addition, Virgin America failed to properly categorize and account for all the disability-related issues that were raised in the complaints the carrier received during 2008 and 2009. As a result, a number of complaints were missing from Virgin America’s annual reports submitted to the Department in 2009 and 2010.
The consent order is available on the Internet at www.regulations.gov, docket DOT-OST-2012-0002. The Department’s annual report on disability-related air travel complaints may be found at http://airconsumer.dot.gov/publications/gateway1.htm.