The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA, 49 U.S.C. 41705) prohibits discrimination by U.S. and foreign air carriers on the basis of physical or mental disability. The Department of Transportation, in interpreting and implementing the ACAA, has issued a rule (14 CFR Part 382) setting forth the standards of service which air carriers are expected to provide to disabled individuals.
How to Reach Us
DOT operates a toll-free hotline to assist air travelers with disabilities. The hotline provides general information to consumers about the rights of air travelers with disabilities and responds to requests for printed consumer information. It also assists air travelers with time-sensitive disability-related issues that need to be addressed in "real time." Click here for information about this disability hotline.
If an individual believes that he or she has been subjected to treatment by an airline that violates the requirements of the ACAA or the rule and would like DOT to investigate the complaint, that person may submit a complaint to the Department's Aviation Consumer Protection Division. We encourage you to use our web form. If you prefer, you may send us a letter or a completed paper complaint form at the following address:
Aviation Consumer Protection Division
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave, SE
Washington, D.C. 20590
The complainant should provide:
- His or her full name, address, telephone number, e-mail address, if any, and the name of the party who suffered the alleged discriminatory conduct, if other than the person submitting the complaint;
- The name of the air carrier involved in the incident, as well as the date of the incident, the place where it occurred and the flight number(s) involved;
- A detailed description of the incident that you believe constituted discriminatory action, including names of those involved (or a description of the individuals) and names of any witnesses; and
- Any other information you believe might be helpful in supporting your complaint. Please send copies (not originals) of any pertinent documents you have relating to the incident (e.g., ticket, boarding passes, itinerary sheets, and correspondence to and from the carrier involved).
Our rules also provide detailed procedures for filing and serving formal third party enforcement complaints against airlines. See 14 CFR Part 302, particularly Subparts A and D. Such complaints are generally filed by attorneys or public interest groups on behalf of individuals, but they also may be filed by the individuals affected by discrimination themselves. Because of changes in the ACAA, each disability-related complaint received by the Department, whether submitted pursuant to 14 CFR Part 302 or under the procedures outlined here, will receive a similar investigation.
What Happens Next?
Once we have received your complaint, we will investigate it and determine what compliance or enforcement action, if any, may be warranted. We will acknowledge your complaint and advise you of its disposition when we complete our review. We may also be in contact with you to request further information that may be needed to complete the review. You should be aware that due to the time necessary for the carrier to conduct its own review of your complaint and get back to you and us, coupled with our need to then review your case and the hundreds of others we receive each year, our response to you will likely take some time.
Those filing complaints should be aware that the remedies which the Department may pursue in these cases are limited by statute. In addition to ensuring prompt corrective action when a complaint and carrier response indicate that the airline's policies and procedures are not in compliance with the ACAA, the Department generally will pursue further enforcement action on the basis of a number of complaints from which it may infer a pattern or practice of discrimination. However, resources permitting, enforcement action may also be brought based on one or a few complaints that are supported by adequate evidence indicating particularly egregious conduct on the part of a carrier.
Complainants should also realize that the Department's authority does not allow it to award monetary damages or pecuniary relief to the injured party, and is limited to the issuance of cease and desist orders proscribing unlawful conduct by a carrier in the future and the assessment of civil penalties payable to the government. The Department may take such actions only through settlements or after formal hearings before administrative law judges. Particularly egregious records of repeated violations may warrant the revocation of a carrier's economic authority to operate. To obtain a personal monetary award of damages, a complainant would have to institute a private legal action.
The rights of disabled air travelers are also protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. 794), particularly with respect to discrimination in airport facilities. The Aviation Consumer Protection Division does not have the authority to investigate claims of violations of those statutory provisions. If it receives such claims it will forward them to the appropriate Federal enforcement agency (i.e., the Federal Aviation Administration or the Department of Justice).
It is important that complaints be filed as soon as possible after the incident at issue to facilitate the Department's investigation; however, we do urge that complainants first seek redress informally in writing from the carrier involved since this may expedite corrective action or a resolution acceptable to the complainant. (See, 14 CFR 382.155.)