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Asiana fined for not helping families after SFO crash

February 27, 2014 Aviation, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59Asiana Airlines has been fined USD 500,000 for failing to help families affected by its plane crash in San Francisco last year, US transport officials have said. The fine is a first for any airline.

US laws require prompt and generous assistance to the loved ones of crash victims.

Three people died and dozens were injured on 6 July 2013 when Asiana Flight 214 clipped a seawall while landing.

In the immediate aftermath of the crash, US aviation lawyers said the final amount of compensation paid depended on all sorts of variables, including passenger nationality, point of origin and whether they were flying one-way or return.

Asiana spokesman Lee Hyo Min told Bloomberg News last August that 288 survivors of the crash were eligible for a USD 10,000 payment, whether they had been injured or not.

Airlines must make such “down payments” under US law and according to the Montreal Convention on air travel signed by both the US and South Korea, home of Asiana, lawyers say.Island Hopping

Subsequent investigations by the US Department of Transportation (DoT) concluded that some family members had not been contacted two days after the crash, and it took five days to reach the families of all 291 passengers. That breached another law.

DoT concluded that Asiana had violated federal law last July by failing to adhere to the assurances in its family assistance plan following the crash of Asiana flight 214 at San Francisco International Airport.  DoT fined Asiana USD 500,000 and ordered the airline to cease and desist from further violations.

“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,” US  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.  At DoT, we are committed to protecting consumers and their families when they travel and will continue to take enforcement action when federal statutes are violated.”

The Foreign Air Carrier Family Support Act of 1997 requires that foreign air carriers assure the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Transportation Safety Board that they will provide various services to passengers and their families by adhering to a “family assistance plan” in the event of aircraft accidents resulting in a major loss of life.

Foreign air carriers must, among other requirements:

  • Publicise 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 aircraft accident as soon as practicable after the foreign air carrier has verified the identity of a passenger on the foreign aircraft, whether or not the names of all of the passengers have been verified;
  • Commit sufficient resources to carry out the family assistance plan.

For approximately one day following the crash of Asiana flight 214 last July, Asiana failed to widely publicise any telephone number for family members of those onboard, and the only number generally available to the public that family members could call was Asiana’s toll-free reservations line, the DoT said.

“Locating this phone number on Asiana’s website required significant effort.  The reservations line did not include a separate menu option for calls related to the crash and callers were required to navigate through cumbersome automated menus before being connected to an Asiana employee.

“In addition, Asiana took two full days to successfully contact the families of just three-quarters of the passengers.  The families of several passengers were not contacted until five days following the crash.

“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. Asiana also 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.

“Not until five days following the crash did Asiana possess the resources necessary to carry out all of the air carrier’s responsibilities under the Act.”

According to a consent order the airline signed with the DoT, Asiana will pay USD 400,000 in a fine and receive a USD 100,000 credit for “costs in sponsoring multiple industry-wide conferences and training sessions in 2013, 2014 and 2015, to provide lessons learned”, the Guardian reported.

In the late 1990s, after airlines were heavily criticised for ignoring desperate requests by relatives for information after crashes. Congress acted, compelling carriers to dedicate significant attention to families of passengers. The DoT is now making sure the law is adhered to.

Written by : Peter Needham

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