American Settles DOT Disability Complaint

FORT WORTH, Texas—American Airlines announced today that it has resolved a 2001 complaint from the Department of Transportation (DOT) involving service to customers with disabilities.

American has long been recognized for award-winning disability training programs, innovative product enhancements and a successful outreach to the disability community. The initial DOT complaint proposed excessive financial penalties of $2 million, and after prolonged negotiations, the company agreed to a settlement that significantly limited American’s cash exposure. American will receive full credit for previous service improvements, and pay $100,000 in installments over a 12-month period.
“Our focus for more than a decade has been to provide customers with disabilities a safe, dignified and comfortable experience on our airline,” said Bella Goren, American’s vice president -Customer Service Planning.

The DOT complaint cited certain occasions where the airline did not provide wheelchairs in a timely manner, and instances where it did not respond to complaint letters within the 45-day period prescribed by DOT.

Goren said that while any service failure is unacceptable, American’s complaint record is very low. Fewer than one-tenth of 1 percent of the 1 million passengers requesting wheelchair assistance from American filed complaints with the airline about service failures in 2001.
American also ranks favorably in terms of disability complaints to the DOT - with the fewest complaints to DOT in the first half of 2002, and second fewest in the second half of 2002 based on passengers boarded.

“Our record has been one of innovation, sensitivity and outreach to our customers with disabilities,” Goren said.

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Among American’s innovations is an award-winning disabilities training program that has been emulated by other airlines and which American has offered to share with the DOT and with the Transportation Security Administration for use with its employees. DOT employees attended AA training in 2002.

American’s focus on service to customers with disabilities is underscored by leadership in the airline industry as early as the 1980s, when American reached out to disability advocates to help develop sensitivity and awareness training for customer service employees. Since then, American has developed products and services that continue to lead the industry:

* American was the first to design and use on-board aisle wheelchairs, which more comfortably and safely transport customers who need mobility assistance.
* American designed, and was the first to install, equipment to reduce the potential for damage to fragile wheelchairs at the airport.
* American designed and installed special carts to move customers with mobility impairments through airports.
* American was the first to test special airport equipment for customers with hearing impairments.
* American was the first to acknowledge and provide training for service to customers with hidden disabilities.
* American has led the industry in service to customers with visual impairments, most recently winning the Helen Keller Vision for the Future award from the American Foundation for the Blind Southwest Region.
* American was the first to set up dedicated disabilities services desks within Reservations, and implemented a reporting system that more easily tracks service issues related to customers with disabilities.
* American has led the industry with an innovative approach to the government’s Complaint Resolution Official requirement by staffing Local Complaint Resolution Officials at the airports and a team of Corporate Complaint Resolution Officials available to airport personnel 24 hours a day.
* American instituted SKYCAARE, which allows customers with medical problems to travel with registered medical personnel, saving the cost of chartering air ambulances.
* American was the first U.S. airline to install heart defibrillators on all of its aircraft. The devices are credited with saving 32 lives.
* American is an active sponsor and partner with the American Association of People with Disabilities, most recently by participating in 2002 National Mentoring Day activities.
“It is our intent to continue the longstanding tradition at American of providing the best possible service to our customers. We will continue our work with disability advocates and with individuals with disabilities within our own company to ensure a safe, comfortable and dignified experience on American,” Goren said.
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