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United Airlines fined $2.75M over treatment of disabled passengers, delayed flights

By Marilyn Malara   |   Jan. 9, 2016 at 1:56 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- United Airlines agreed to a $2.75 million fine after the U.S. Department of Transportation found the air carrier stranded passengers for hours and violated rules designed to protect disabled passengers.

The airline came under investigation after what the agency said was a "significant increase in the number of disability-related complaints" from passengers.

"A review of these disability-related complaints revealed that United failed to provide passengers with disabilities prompt and adequate assistance with enplaning and deplaning aircraft and with moving through the terminal," at five major airports, the agency said in a statement.

One such instance took place in October, when a United passenger with cerebral palsy crawled off a flight because the airline crew failed to promptly provide him with a previously requested wheelchair. A week later, United publicly apologized.

A total of $2 million from the fine will be put toward improving mobile availability and service. The DOT said United will put $150,000 to improve quality assurance audits for the company's wheelchair vendors and $500,000 towards a program to help develop new technology to better assist disabled passengers. The technology includes a mobile phone app that allows customers and crew members to order mobility aids.

United is also required to pay $650,000 in compensation to those who filed specific complaints with the company in 2014.

The remaining $750,000 is linked to five tarmac delays that exceeded three hours at the Chicago O'Hare International Airport in 2013 and Houston Hobby Airport in 2015. Department of Transportation rules require domestic passengers be allowed off aircrafts in delays three hours or longer.

The department said $375,000 of the fine will go to installing automated visual docking and guidance systems, which will allowing planes to remained parked in any weather condition or during abnormal operations without marshallers.

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