Saturday, November 11, 2017

Disability & airline issues

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   Around the global world there is now an awareness that the need of access for those with disabilities must be a prime goal both in design of public buildings and redo of city streets, as well, in every facet of life.
   For example, disability mandates extend to psychological and health issues requiring a service dog to accompany the disabled person everywhere, even aboard an aircraft—large over-size dogs now must be accepted by owners of large apartment building or condos, also in gated communities.

   I was flummoxed, then dismayed when I rec0ently took an inbound flight from Rome to JFK on Alitalia and discovered there was a change of aircraft, but my disability did not qualify me for a seat equal to the confirmed aisle seat I had chosen months earlier.
   Even more puzzling, when I was recovered from my recent flying ordeal, I researched the European Union’s criteria for airlines carrying persons with disabilities and filled out a complaint regarding the regulation that seemed to apply—I was informed that the regulation did not apply in my case.
   When I contacted the FAA’s legal department and related my complaint to one of their lawyers—that’s when I found out why the European Union said my situation did not apply—the FAA’s lawyer told me that when there is a change of aircraft, airlines are not required to inform the passengers, and not legally required to find a seat equivalent to the original confirmed seat.
   I was still confused and could not believe that airlines had no legal liability if there was a change of aircraft and confirmed seats were not honored, so I called the Department of Transportation’s consumer help line (1-855-368-4200) and left a message—within a few hours I received a return phone call.  Very carefully, and in great detail I was given the reason why a change of aircraft absolves airlines from considering persons with disabilities when new seats are assigned in place of the previously confirm seat.  Yet it made no sense to me that a computer driven overlay of seats for the changed aircraft allows airlines to disturb the travel plans of disabled passengers, reassign seats regardless of inconvenience, or worse, cancellation of trip.
   In fact, the Department of Transportation’s view is “make a plan B” for such an event” which might include asking for another flight,  even if the delay is more than a day, but he also indicated that a call to “your congressman” would help to revise the Disability Act by adding airlines to the transportation mandatory compliance regardless of change of aircraft.
  As well, you can file a consumer complaint against the airline which is available on the **Department of Transportation website, the airlines are required to respond to your complaint and the Dept. monitors the list to determine what airlines are frequent offenders.
   If you are disabled, and there is a change of aircraft that requires you to cancel your trip, you can file a complaint with the *ADA affiliated with the AG of the United States—on the ADA website you will see posts of complaints that were filed against Greyhound and others settled with an agreement to insure persons with disabilities can travel like everyone else.
   Be an activist, call AAPD (American Association of Persons with Disabilities) to ask how you can help to make airlines conform to requirements for persons with disabilities regardless of change of aircraft.