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Airlines Rapped For Discrimination
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

Sept.10, 2001--Two airlines are in the "hot seat" for their treatment of people with disabilities, it was reported last week.

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Transportation filed a complaint against Northwest Airlines claiming the nation's fourth largest air carrier discriminated against air travelers with disabilities on hundreds of occasions. The Transportation Department is asking that Northwest pay a $3 million fine, which would be the largest civil penalty ever against a carrier, plus $10,000 for each additional violation the department finds as it continues its investigation.

According to the complaint, most of the problems have had to do with the airline making people with disabilities wait for long periods of time for wheelchairs, that they have left passengers on planes for extended periods of time, and made passengers miss flights by leaving them at the wrong gates.

The DOT investigation was in response to a formal complaint filed by two passengers who said Northwest failed to provide them with wheelchairs even though they had requested them more than a month in advance.

In Europe, disability groups and the airline industry are united in their condemnation against Ryanair, Ireland's "no frills" airline, for its continued policy of charging extra to help passengers who use wheelchairs and for allegedly refusing to board certain passengers with disabilities.

Earlier this year most airlines and airports in Europe voluntarily agreed to provide free wheelchair assistance. A handful of low-cost carriers, including Ryanair, did not.

"We're a low-cost airline," Ryanair spokesman Enda O'Toole told the European Voice news service. "Wheelchair provision is one of the services we don't provide."

Now, the Association of European Airlines (AEA), which represents the European Union's larger carriers, has decided to abandon the voluntary approach and support proposed legislation that would force all airlines to provide these services at no charge.

"I think the mood in the industry is that such practices give aviation a bad name and should be outlawed," said John Hume of Airports Council International.

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