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US DOT rules British Airways violated disabled man rights

  • Written by Roberto Castiglioni

The US Department of Transportation ruling on a disabled man complaint found British Airways violated the law protecting the rights of disabled passengers.


Timothy Wilson and his wife Andrea had planned to celebrate their 10th anniversary in America. In the morning of 8 September the couple arrived at London Heathrow airport to catch a flight to Las Vegas.


Timothy travels with a personal wheelchair and booked assistance through British Airways ahead of his flight. After a long wait, Heathrow helpers showed up well past Tim’s scheduled boarding time and rushed to get him on board the airplane and onto his seat.


“When they got to the seat they took off the straps and lifted the armrests and let me go,” Tim recalled with horror. “I was leaning so much to the side I fell out the left of the seat, smashing my face against the bulkhead as I fell to the side. My wife screamed and helpers could catch me before I fell out of the seat.” The fall left Tim shaken and in pain. “Injury wise, I bashed my face as I fell out of the chair to the side,” He said. “I had a sore face and achy jaw for two days.”

An OmniServ manager said helpers stopped Mr Wilson’s fall as he slipped after undoing the straps. Both agents acknowledged he Heathrow airport Terminal 5made a comment about hitting his head but denied this happening. “Mr Wilson’s experience was not correct or at all pleasurable,” the manager said.


The Air Carrier Access Act, the Federal rule protecting the rights of disabled people, applies to all US and foreign airlines operating flights to and from the United States. Under the ACAA, airlines are held responsible for their contractors, including when service failures occur. OmniServ is the wheelchair service provider for all airlines operating at Heathrow. 


In a letter dated 10 December, British Airways acknowledged Tim Wilson’s complaint but denied not adhering to the Air Carrier Access Act. “As our reports indicate that assistance was provided and we have no records to indicate there was an issue, BA is not in violation of this regulation,” the document said.


Tim and Andrea Wilson at the 2012 Paralympic GamesOn 27 January, Tim Wilson received the US Department of Transportation’s ruling on his complaint. 


The DOT found British Airways violated the ACAA by failing to provide prompt and adequate enplaning assistance. “In its response, British Airways concedes that the onboard assistance provided to Mr Wilson was inadequate,” the Investigation Summary says. ”Therefore the airline violated sections 382.15(a) and 382.111(a) in this instance.”


Reviewing Tim’s return flight from Las Vegas, The DOT found British Airways again violated the Rule. 


“British Airways contractor OmniServ admits that Mr Wilson was delayed in being removed from his flight,” the Investigation Summary says. ”Additionally, BA concedes that this delay was caused by its own staff improperly tagging Mr Wilson’s wheelchair. Based on the information presented, Mr Wilson was not provided with prompt deplaning assistance he requested from BA and therefore the airline violated sections 382.15(a), 382.95(a), and 382.195(c) in this instance”


In an enforcement case, the DoT may issue cease and desist orders and assess civil penalties not to exceed US $27,500 per violation.


"We are always disappointed to hear that a customer has had an experience that does not reflect our usual high standard," a British Airways spokesperson told Reduced Mobility Rights."We routinely work with the US Department of Transportation and with suppliers to ensure our customers receive the best possible service."


Heathrow was not available for comments at the time of publishing.


Have you travelled through Heathrow lately? Do you think airports and airlines do enough to make your journey easier? Post your comments on Reduced Mobility Rights Facebook page or tell us your story using the contact form.



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