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Processing Of Complaints Alleging Discrimination By Airlines Based On Race, Color, National Origin, Sex, Religion Or Ancestry


The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division (ACPD), part of DOT’s Office of the Assistant General Counsel for Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings (Enforcement Office), receives complaints from passengers about airline service, and it investigates each complaint against an airline or its contractors alleging discrimination in air travel on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, and ancestry.

How to File Complaint

Members of the public, who feel they have been the subject of discriminatory actions or treatment by air carriers, may file a complaint using our web form.

If you prefer, you may send a letter or a completed paper complaint form to:

Aviation Consumer Protection Division (C-75)
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave. S.E.
Washington, DC 20590.

A paper complaint form is also available.

What to Include

Complaints should include the following:

  • full name;
  • address;
  • telephone number including area code of complainant;
  • name of the party who suffered the discriminatory conduct, if other than the person submitting the complaint;
  • name of the airline involved in the incident;
  • the flight date, flight number, origin and destination cities of the aggrieved party’s trip;
  • a detailed description of the incident; and
  • a statement that the aggrieved party would like the matter to be investigated by ACPD.

What Happens Next

Complaints will be reviewed, acknowledged, and investigated. Upon receiving a discrimination complaint, ACPD will mail a copy of the complaint letter to the airline and ask the airline for a prompt and specific response to the passenger, with a copy to ACPD. ACPD will also request a separate response from the airline concerning any information required by law to remain confidential. The carrier’s responses will be reviewed and further action will be taken, as appropriate. At the conclusion of the investigation, the Enforcement Office will send a letter to the passenger explaining any action taken.

If the Enforcement Office finds an airline policy or procedure is not in compliance with the law, it would direct the carrier to change its policy or procedure, warn the carrier about potential enforcement action if similar complaints continue to be received, and recommend additional civil rights customer relations training for the employees involved, if appropriate. If this does not solve the problem, the Enforcement Office may bring enforcement action against the carrier.

Generally, the Enforcement Office will pursue enforcement action on the basis of a number of complaints on which it may infer a pattern or practice of discrimination. However, where one or a few complaints describe particularly egregious conduct on the part of a carrier and those complaints are supported by adequate evidence, the Enforcement Office will pursue enforcement action as its resources permit. In an enforcement case, DOT is limited to issuing cease and desist orders and assessing civil penalties (fines). Such action can only be accomplished through settlements or formal hearings before administrative law judges. It cannot order compensation for aggrieved parties. To obtain a personal monetary award of damages, a complainant would have to file a private legal action that might be based on private contract rights or on civil rights statutes that provide for private rights of action (e.g., 42 U.S.C. § 1981).

Last updated: Thursday, January 15, 2015