I love my work as an attorney because I get to go up against large corporations on behalf of wonderful and deserving clients.  It has been said that attorneys are the watch dogs of industry. Certainly as an attorney I do notice trends in injuries and the lawsuits that follow.  Lawsuits can effect great change. Lately I have noticed a disturbing trend, disabled or elderly passengers injured on commercial flights during transfers or when they are deprived of appropriate mobility assistance.

According to a USA Today Story published in 2008, in three years more than 34,000 disabled fliers complained about their treatment and 54% of the incidents involved wheelchair assistance. The same article raises a concern that the airlines are outsourcing wheelchair service, and that the outside companies do not provide adequately trained personnel.

“According to a survey last year by a workers’ advocacy group of 275 Los Angeles International passenger-service workers, the average pay is less than $19,000 a year. Some 60% said they had not been formally trained in how to lift an immobile passenger.”

As we age we are more likely to ourselves become disabled, and large segments of our populations are aging. We need to ensure that travel is safe for everyone and we need to hold airlines responsible for injuring disabled or elderly passengers.  What can you do if you are injured during travel? The first thing you should do, if possible, is to file a complaint with the US Department of Transportation. If you are at the airport, complain directly to the Complaint Resolution Official who is required to be stationed at the airport by the airline or available via telephone or TTY at all times that the airline is operating.  This is mandated by the Air Carrier Access Act. The Complaint Resolution Official must be able to resolve, on the spot and in accordance with the Act, issues that any disabled passenger is encountering.

The Air Carrier Access Act was recently amended and became effective on May 13, 2009. Foreign carriers are now included in the Act. There are training requirements for US Carriers, their crew and front line staff.  The current civil penalty per violation of the air carrier access act is $27,500. The Department of Transportation must investigate each complaint sent directly to them.

A disabled or injured passenger who has been injured by an airline or contractor while traveling has a right to recover for these injuries.  This may be obvious. Disabled passengers who have been discriminated against by an airline also have a right to recovery. It is very important to know your rights before you travel.

Some people do not like to fly because they experience a lack of control. Now imagine that you are confined to a wheel chair or require assistance walking or hearing or seeing and that you have to rely upon the airline or their contractor to transport you to your seat or to your connecting flight. It is not acceptable for the airline or contractor to lack training in assisting disabled passengers. Disabled and elderly passengers deserve better.