The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has fined Asiana Airlines $500,000 for failing to adhere to its family-assistance plan following the July 6 crash of Asiana Flight 214 at San Francisco International Airport. The fine marks the first such penalty ever issued by the DOT under the Foreign Air Carrier Family Support Act of 1997.
“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,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a 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.”
The Foreign Air Carrier Family Support Act of 1997 requires that foreign air carriers observe a family-assistance plan in the event of aircraft accidents resulting in a major loss of life. Foreign air carriers must, among other requirements, publicize and staff a reliable, toll-free telephone number to take calls from families of passengers involved in an aircraft accident; notify the families of passengers involved in an accident “as soon as practicable” as it verifies each passenger’s identity; and commit sufficient resources to carry out the family-assistance plan.
According to the DOT, Asiana took two full days to successfully contact the families of just three-quarters of the passengers. It did not contact the families of several passengers until five days after the crash. In addition, for about a day following the crash, Asiana failed to widely publicize a telephone number that family members of passengers could use, forcing them to use the airline’s toll-free reservations line, which, according to the department, required “significant” effort to find on its web site. The reservations line did not include a separate menu option for calls related to the crash and callers had to navigate through “cumbersome” automated menus before reaching an Asiana employee.
Asiana’s response to the crash of Flight 214 indicates that the carrier failed to commit sufficient resources to carry out its family-assistance plan, said the DOT. The airline took two days to send a sufficient number of trained personnel to San Francisco, initially lacked an adequate number of staff able to communicate in the languages spoken by the flight’s passengers, and had no pre-existing contract for the cleaning and returning of passenger property, it added. Not until five days after the crash did Asiana possess the resources necessary to carry out all of the air carrier’s responsibilities under the act, concluded the department.