Northwest Air faces $3 mln fine for discrimination
WASHINGTON, Sept 7 (Reuters) - Northwest Airlines (NasdaqNM:NWAC - news) was charged on Friday with discriminating against passengers with disabilities and the U.S. Department of Transportation said it was seeking the largest civil penalty ever against a carrier, more than $3 million.
On hundreds of occasions, the nation's fourth-largest airline allegedly took a long time getting wheelchairs, left passengers on aircraft for extended periods of time, and left passengers at the wrong gates which made them miss connecting flights, according to the agency's enforcement office.
``Northwest Airlines probably transports the majority of disabled air travelers in accordance with the law,'' DOT said in a statement. ``However, the fact that (DOT) still discovered several hundred violations, many of them egregious, is unacceptable and cannot be allowed to continue.''
The Transportation Department said it was seeking a $3 million civil penalty against the St. Paul, Minnesota-based airline for the violations detailed in the complaint filed on Friday, plus $10,000 for each additional violation revealed during the course of its investigation.
``We are deeply disappointed that they have chosen to proceed with this enforcement action after rejecting our proposals to work together,'' said Kathy Peach, a Northwest Airlines spokeswoman.
In a statement released late Friday, Northwest said it had proposed developing a joint committee of DOT and industry members, as well as members of disability groups, ``to address the logistical problems faced by the airline industry.'' It also said it proposed developing a ``best practices'' standard for the airline industry to add substance to current ``ambiguous'' regulations.
``We will challenge this action,'' Peach said.
The complaint will be heard by an administrative law judge during which the Transportation Department will have to prove the alleged violations.
The investigation stems from a formal complaint filed by two air travelers who said the airline failed to provide them with wheelchairs even though they had been requested more than a month ahead of time, DOT said.
Shares of Northwest Airlines Corp. closed down 15 cents to $20 on Nasdaq, just above its 52-week low. Its shares have traded in a 52-week range of $33.25-$19 a share.