JetBlue Fined for Violating Disability, Code-Share Disclosure Rules

Following a visit to JetBlue’s headquarters in March, DOT reviewed complaints about the treatment of passengers with disabilities filed with the carrier and with DOT. The complaints revealed a number of violations of the requirement to provide enplaning and deplaning assistance.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) recently assessed a civil penalty against JetBlue Airways for violating rules protecting air travelers with disabilities and for failing to disclose when flights sold by the carrier were being operated under a code-sharing arrangement. The carrier was assessed a civil penalty of $600,000, of which $350,000 must be paid by the carrier and up to $250,000 may be used to improve its service to disabled passengers beyond what is required by law.

“We expect airlines to treat their passengers fairly, and we will not hesitate to take enforcement action when carriers fail to respect their rights,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

DOT’s rules implementing the Air Carrier Access Act require airlines to provide assistance to passengers with disabilities in boarding and deplaning aircraft, including the use of wheelchairs, ramps, mechanical lifts, or service personnel where needed. Carriers also must respond within 30 days to written complaints about their treatment of disabled passengers and specifically address the issues raised in each complaint. In addition, airlines must also submit annual reports to the DOT on disability-related complaints from passengers, noting for each complaint the type of disability and the nature of the complaint.

Following a visit to JetBlue’s headquarters in March, DOT’s Aviation Enforcement Office reviewed complaints about the treatment of passengers with disabilities filed with the carrier and with DOT. The complaints revealed a number of violations of the requirement to provide enplaning and deplaning assistance. In addition, officials found that the carrier frequently did not provide an adequate written response to complaints from disabled passengers and that it failed to properly categorize disability complaints in reports filed with the DOT.

In addition, the Enforcement Office made a number of telephone calls to JetBlue’s reservation line and found that the carrier’s agents failed to disclose that flights sold by the carrier were being operated by Cape Air, a JetBlue code-share affiliate. DOT rules require airlines to disclose to consumers, before they book a flight, if the flight is operated under a code-sharing arrangement under which a carrier will sell tickets on flights that use its designator code but are operated by a different airline. The disclosure must include the corporate name of the transporting carrier and any other name under which the flight is offered to the public.

Of the $600,000 penalty, up to $250,000 may be used to establish a task force to audit the carrier’s handling of passengers with disabilities, to create a disability customer care center that will reach out to disabled passengers prior to travel, and serve as an information resource for them, and to enhance the carrier’s website to improve its information for travelers with disabilities. The actual cost of these improvements is substantially greater than $250,000.

The consent order is available on the at www.regulations.gov, docket DOT-OST-2010-0005.

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