Transportation Dept., for the First Time, Fines an Airline for Failing to Help Families of Crash Victims

Friday, February 28, 2014
Grieving parents of an Asiana crash victim (AP photo)

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) had never punished a foreign airline for not properly assisting families following a plane crash, which is required under federal law. But then came Asiana Airlines’ poor response to the crash of Flight 214 last year in San Francisco that killed three passengers and injured dozens more.

 

The South Korean airline became the first company fined by DOT for violating the Foreign Air Carrier Family Support Act of 1997 (pdf).

 

The statute requires, among other things, for airliners to provide a toll-free telephone number for family members to get information about passengers, and to promptly notify families about loved ones they may be worrying about.

 

But it took Asiana more than one day following the July 6 crash to publicize any phone number for families to use, leaving relatives with the only option of going through the company’s reservation line, which meant dealing with “cumbersome automated menus” before reaching a representative, according to DOT.

 

The agency says Asiana also made it difficult to even locate the reservation line on its website.

 

In addition, the airline needed two days to successfully contact the families of just 75% of the passengers. Some families didn’t hear from Asiana until five days after the accident.

 

For these failings, DOT fined the airline $500,000 and ordered it to never make these mistakes again.

 

“In the very rare event of a crash, airlines have a responsibility to provide their full support to help passengers and their families by following all the elements of their family assistance plans,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a prepared statement.  “The last thing families and passengers should have to worry about at such a stressful time is how to get information from their carrier.”

 

Asiana defended itself to DOT by saying it was hampered by having an insufficient number of employees at San Francisco International Airport. Company officials also pointed out that injured passengers were sent to 13 different hospitals, which added to the difficulty of determining their whereabouts.

-Noel Brinkerhoff

 

To Learn More:

U.S. Department of Transportation Fines Asiana Airlines for Not Adhering to Family Assistance Plan Following Crash (U.S. Department of Transportation)

Asiana Airlines Fined $500,000 for Failing to Help Families After July Crash (by Mike M. Ahlers, CNN)

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