On occasions, disabled passengers traveling by air find themselves in the unwanted position of having to file complaints.
In an ideal world, disabled passengers should never find themselves having to complain about poor assistance or worse. Unfortunately, the real world presents a much different picture.
Complaints are usually the last resort, as most problems are resolved as they arise. However, in case the disabled passenger, or his carers, notice something wrong has happened, filing a complaint becomes inevitable.
There are significant differences between the United States and European anti-discrimination legislation. Passengers traveling on domestic U.S. flights or from and to the United States of America have the airline as only responsible subject. However, under European legislation, all ground services fall under the responsibility of the airport, while services provided on board the aircraft are the responsibility of the carrier.
Another significant difference is the creation of the Complaint Resolution Official. In the United States, each airline must have a CRO on duty at all times. The CRO function is to get the passenger's complaint and attempt to address it as it arises. This first line of defence for passengers with reduced mobility is not foreseen in the European legislation.
On paper, having a CRO available is an advantage for US travelers. However, the recent incident involving a teen with Down syndrome proves that the American policy is not perfect after all.
We are now going to analyse the complaint filing and handling system under both legislation, starting with the United States.
The disabled passenger who feels being discriminated by the airline must ask to speak to the Complaint Resolution Official. The CRO receives the complaint and attempts to fix it as it arises. In case this is not possible, or the CRO decision is against the complaint, the CRO must provide the passenger a written report within 30 days.
If the passenger is still dissatisfied, he/she may file the complaint with the Department of Transportation's Aviation Enforcement office.
As we have seen before, European legislation is more difficult, and makes it more complicated for disabled passengers to file complaints.
The traveller who feels his rights have been violated must first contact the appropriate service provider. If the problem is related to ground assistance, such as transfers within the terminal building, boarding or leaving an aircraft, the complaint must be filed with the airport. This is not always as straight forward as it sounds. If the problem is related to a problem experienced on board the aircraft, the complaint must be filed with the airline.
If the passenger is unhappy with the reply received from the service provider or air carrier, he/she may file a complaint with the relevant National Enforcement Body. A full list of NEBs and their contact information is available here.
Because there are 27 National Enforcement Bodies in Europe, the complainant must determine the correct one. If the complaint is filed against an airport, the NEB to contact is the one of the country where the airport is located. If the complaint is filed against the airline, the complaint should be filed in the country where the airline is headquartered. When in doubt, the passenger may contact the National Enforcement Body of his country of residence. The NEB will then pass on the complaint to the right handler.
Reduced Mobility Rights is available to assist passengers with reduced mobility and disabled passengers to file complaints with the relevant NEBs. This service is free of charge.