Access Advocates Hail Delta's Record $2 Million DOT Fine

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The Transportation Department yesterday fined Delta, the world's second largest carrier, a record $2 million for its treatment of passengers with disabilities. Access advocates say the fine is also a wake up call for other airlines.

It's the largest penalty the DOT has ever imposed against a carrier for a non-safety violation.

"It's a big ruling. The airline industry has never see a ruling like this," Eric Lipp, director of the Chicago-based Open Doors Organization tells AOL Travel News. "DOT is clearly sending a message to airlines, let's not kid ourselves."

Barbara Twardowski, who writes frequently about traveling in a wheelchair, says she hopes the penalty "will bring attention to the greater needs" of disabled passengers.

"I enjoy traveling but my biggest anxiety is over the flight," Twardowski says. "For someone in a wheelchair, airplane travel is so difficult."

Delta was ordered to use much of the fine on wheelchair system improvements, compliance audits and customer service surveys.

The carrier was called out by federal regulators in a number of areas including cases of leaving wheelchair passengers unattended for more than 15 minutes on airplanes and for more than 30 minutes in airport terminals.

Delta was also cited for not giving adequate responses to passenger complaints, and for an "upward trend" in passenger complaints.

"We take our aviation disability rules seriously and will continue to enforce them vigorously," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says in a statement.

"We take the responsibility of serving customers with disabilities seriously and have made significant investments in technology, feedback assessment, and training since the issues in 2007 and 2008 that the DOT cites in its consent order," Delta says in a statement.

Lipp, whose group advises airlines and other travel companies on disability issues, says the fine "is hitting Delta in the pocketbook and is going to create change in more than Delta."

Delta was also fined $1.3 million in 2003 for its treatment of disabled air passengers.

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