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Airlines' Treatment of Disabled Is Criticized

April 04, 1999

Despite progress in recent years, "air travelers with disabilities frequently find air travel unnecessarily humiliating and upsetting," the National Council on Disability said in a scathing report to Congress and President Clinton.

The independent federal agency said the 1986 Air Carrier Access Act, aimed at equal treatment for disabled passengers, has been violated "countless" times. Among incidents cited: airlines refusing to store walkers in aircraft cabins, refusing to escort an impaired child to a connecting flight and failing to provide a boarding chair for a wheelchair-bound passenger.

The report said the U.S. Department of Transportation has failed to adequately pursue the 1,831 disability-related complaints it received from airline passengers from 1990 to 1997. The council also cited data indicating many times that number of complaints were filed directly with airlines.

In a letter to the council, DOT Secretary Rodney E. Slater noted that the DOT has proposed legislation to require airlines to report such complaints and "will be seeking resources . . . to enable us to investigate disability complaints thoroughly, in the manner they deserve."

A spokesman for Delta Airlines, which had the highest rate of disability-related DOT complaints among major U.S. carriers, had not yet seen the report but defended his company's record. "I've seen a real willingness to be as helpful as we can" to disabled travelers, Clay McConnell said.

John Meenan, senior vice president for industry policy at the Air Transport Assn., said the airline trade group is looking at the council report and takes it "very seriously," but he declined to comment further. The full text of the council's report is on its Web site, http://www.ncd.gov.

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