Making your complaint count: how to simply and effectively report your negative transportation experience and positively affect transportation accessibility for all
Complaints from consumers help highlight problem areas and emerging inaccessibility trends in transportation industries. When you face barriers to transportation, you are likely not alone. Often, others have or will encounter similar negative experiences until the problem is resolved. For this reason, it is important for you to take the time and effort to report any discriminatory incident details.
Sharing your story puts public agencies and private companies on notice and keeps them aware of issues that need their attention. Feedback, positive or negative, can assist in improving industry policies and may lead to larger changes or protections in state or federal laws.
Here are 5 steps to be heard and drive change by reporting your incident
Step 1: Pinpoint The Problem
When you feel that you are not being served properly or face a physical or safety barrier, it’s time to speak up. The list of possible issues is long: excessive wait or hold times, pick up refusals, no-shows, driver negligence, unprofessional behavior, harassment, discrimination, security screening errors, unhelpful customer service, inaccessible vehicles, unsafe restraints, damages to our property and physical harm to us. It helps to be familiar with your rights and responsibilities. Knowing the proper procedures and terms will help you explain and defend your needs.
Step 2: Aim For A Teachable Moment
If the situation allows, try to calmly guide the person you are having difficulties with through the steps that will lead to a safe solution. If that doesn’t work and you can, ask to speak to a supervisor, or let the person know you want a moment to phone someone who can solve your problem in a timely manner. Most public transportation or private ride sharing services will have a phone number posted that you can use 24/7.
IMPORTANT: if you feel your safety is being threatened, leave the situation or dial 911.
Traveling by air? Air carriers are required to be staffed with one or more trained Complaint Resolution Officials (CROs) on-site or available by phone at all times.
Step 3: For Follow-up – Collect the Necessary Information
Having detailed notes about the incident will be helpful in its resolution. Even if your initial problem was resolved, it may still be necessary or useful to file a complaint that notes the issue. Keep in mind the problem could happen to you again. Or, you may learn it is happening to others. Your records could help lead to a long-term solution.
Things to write down or remember for issues on planes, trains or vehicles:
- Approximate time of incident
- Company name
- Involved employee name(s)
- Employee contact information
- Driver permit number
- Vehicle license plate
- Flight/train/route number
Save a fully detailed description of incident on your phone, camera, or a notepad. If possible, take photos as documentation of inaccessible features or equipment damages.
Step 4: Filing your complaint
If you are not satisfied with how your concerns were handled or if similar instances happen again, it is time to make a written complaint and to ask for a response. Reaching out to a company and/or government agency representative is the best way to be sure you file your complaint thoroughly. Please remember, it is important to keep all your conversations professional as anyone you contact has potential to be allies for future transportation advocacy.
Where to file your complaint:
Buses, light rails, or paratransit services
Your initial point of contact may be with the company itself, or if it is a public transportation service, you may need to contact your local government (city or county) first.
For companies: use the company name and phone number, if available. Otherwise, search the internet for the consumer complaint or accessibility contact information.
For public transportation service: you can reach out to your city, county, or state transportation agency. An Internet search or phone call under the name of the service should point you in the right direction. Most services have a formal complaint process.
Please note: your local government cares about accessibility issues. So, whether you have a complaint with a private company or a public service, when you share your complaint with your local government representatives, you are providing a record that can impact larger accessibility policy and enforcement.
With modes of public transportation, as with buildings, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protections are in place to make sure access is available. If you feel you have experienced a violation of the ADA, you can file a report to the Department of Justice:
Department of Justice
Internet searches should provide you with a company specific complaint form or customer service contact information. Following up on your complaint with your city and local taxi commission is important and can generally be done through a website, email or complaint number.
Again, ridesharing falls under the jurisdiction of individual cities and filing a consumer complaint about your accessibility or discrimination experience is a useful step for awareness about this new industry.
Know your rights, airport versus airlines. It is important to understand that two different laws operate to protect your disability rights with air travel. The ADA protects you at airports while the Air Carriers Access Act protects you with the airlines.
Often, your first step should be to contact the airline you are traveling with. Many have designated disability customer service agents available over the phone, but speaking with someone at the airport is a good first step. As mentioned previously, Complaint Resolution Officers (CRO) are available at all times in airports or over the phone and have special disability related procedure and resolution training (see step 2 box).
Once you are home, an Internet search for any airline’s ‘accessibility’ page should connect you with a proper customer service representative. All airlines are required to have accessibility and disability complaint service representatives available via email or phone.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) recommends that “before you contact DOT for help with an air travel problem, you should give the airline a chance to resolve it.” However, for advocacy purposes, we suggest following up with your airline and discrimination related complaints with an incident report to the DOT:
Department of Transportation
Aviation Consumer Protection Division (202-366-2220)
The United Spinal Association has a more detailed air travel guide available online. The Accessible Air Travel-A Guide for People with Disabilities can be found at: https://www.unitedspinal.org/pdf/2015-accessible-air-travel-brochure.pdf
Each airport has an airport manager’s office that you can contact. Individuals in this office can be of help for complaints about accessibility issues that happen on airport grounds or if you feel you have been discriminated against. As with ground transportation, it can be smart and prudent to file an additional complaint with the designated governmental agency that oversees the airport.
Please note: aviation safety and security complaints are not handled by DOT’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division.
If you have a concern about airline safety (airline and airplane safety, emergency exit seating, low-flying aircraft, pilot licensing, and related issues) call the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA):
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
Visit the FAA website to report a safety-related travel problem.
If your incident occurred during the passenger and baggage screening process, it is extremely important that you report that issue to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA):
Transportation Security Administration
TSA Cares Disability Support Line: 855-787-2227
Amtrak Customer Relations 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245)
Step 5: Share your experience
If you’re comfortable, highlighting severe transportation inaccessibility over social media or with the press can be an impactful step for awareness and a catalyst for change. Many companies have Facebook, Twitter, etc. and encourage positive and negative feedback. No matter what, talk to others in your community. If your experience is common for individuals with disabilities, maybe it’s time to mobilize as a group and spearhead a transportation policy change initiative.