How to File a Complaint With the Department of Transportation
On Wednesday, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People warned African Americans about traveling with American Airlines and the potential for unfair treatment when flying with the carrier. The Department of Transportation allows air passengers to file complaints about discrimination if they feel they were discriminated against for a number of reasons.
Complaints about discrimination against airlines happen with more frequency than you might think. In August 2017, the Department of Transportation received a total of 11 complaints from passengers for discrimination. American Airlines had two complaints about race discrimination — more than any of the other airlines listed. Other Airlines receiving complaints included Aeromexico, Bahamas Air, Delta, Frontier, PSA Airlines, Southwest, Spirit and United.
There are some important things to know about filing a complaint with the Department of Transportation. On the DOT's website, the agency encourages passengers to file complaints if they've experienced a number of forms of discrimination. More specifically, it says:
"If your complaint alleges discriminatory treatment in air travel by personnel of an air carrier or its contractors (e.g., pilots, gate agents, flight attendants) on the basis of disability or on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion or ancestry, we encourage you to file your complaint with DOT's Aviation Consumer Protection Division by using our web form."
The DOT investigates each complaint against an airline or its contractors. To file a complaint, you'll want to do so using the DOT's web form, or, if you'd like to do so the traditional way, you can send a paper complaint to:
Aviation Consumer Protection Division (C-75)
US Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave. S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20590
In the complaint, you should be sure to include the following information: full name; address; telephone number including area code of complaint; name of the party who suffered the discriminatory conduct, if other than the person submitting the complaint; name of the airline involved in the incident; the flight date, flight number, origin and destination cities of the aggrieved party's trip; a detailed description of the incident; and a statement that the aggrieved party would like the matter to be investigated by ACPD (Aviation Consumer Protection Department).
After your complaint has been reviewed, acknowledged and investigated, the ACPD will then mail your letter to the airline and ask for the airline to respond to you with another copy to ACPD, as well as a separate response from the airline with any information that will remain confidential. The carrier's responses will then be reviewed and ACPD will then determine if any further action will be taken.
If, indeed, the Enforcement Office finds an airline's policy is not in compliance with the law, it'll direct the carrier to change it. The EO will also warn the carrier about additional action if similar complaints are received and, if not solved, the EO may bring enforcement action against the carrier.
Discrimination isn't the only basis for filing a complaint. You can also file a complaint with the DOT for a number of other reasons, including safety and security, service and more. In general, though, filing a complaint with the Department of Transportation should be one of your last moves. Airlines create their own policies and procedures, so try resolving your issue with the carrier first. If that gets you nowhere or if you're not satisfied with the result, then considering going to the DOT and filing a complaint.
The process for filing complaints about issues other than discrimination works about the same — you'll file a complaint, the complaint will go to the airline and you'll hear about the result. Check out this page on the DOT's website for more information.
While you might not hear about it often — or submit one yourself — complaints filed with the DOT are fairly common. Generally speaking, they shouldn't be your first move after a sour experience, but if the result you're looking from doesn't come from the carrier, it could be worth turning to the DOT.