February 25, 2014
Asiana Airlines has agreed to pay a $500,000 fine for its lackluster response following the crash of one of its Boeing 777s at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) last July — a response that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) determined was also illegal.
DOT charged Asiana with failing to implement its post-accident family response plan required by the Foreign Air Carrier Family Support Act of 1997. DOT’s charges and the fine are the first under the statute.
DOT says Asiana violated three of the act’s 18 stipulations. The carrier was too slow in publicizing a toll-free phone number for victims’ families to call, failed to notify family members in a timely fashion, and didn’t commit sufficient resources to carry out its plan.
In its consent order against Asiana, DOT says the carrier took more than 18 and a half hours after the crash to set up, staff, and publicize a dedicated toll-free number. In the interim, relatives of passengers were forced to rely on the carrier’s reservations number, which DOT notes “required significant effort” to locate on the carrier’s website.
Asiana also took five days to contact family members of all 291 passengers onboard, 288 of whom survived. DOT notes that while many passengers were able to contact relatives themselves, “this did not relieve the carrier of its statutory obligation to contact those families.” Victims, the agency explains, may not know the services available to families, for instance — so the carrier is required to make contact.
DOT also faulted Asiana for taking five days to have its own personnel assume all duties outlined in the carrier’s family assistance plan, which was last updated in 2004.
Asiana says it had 12 employees on duty at SFO when the 777 crashed on the airfield. Personnel from its regional headquarters in Los Angeles drove to SFO as soon as word of the accident came in, reasoning that the airport’s closure made driving the best option. In the interim, Asiana received significant help from Star Alliance partner United Airlines.
Asiana blamed several factors, including Chinese travel agent practices of not providing individual passenger phone numbers along with bookings, for delays in contacting passengers’ families. Asiana also said passengers were sent to 13 hospitals, and because no master list was created as they were taken away, the carrier struggled to positively identify each one.
The carrier agreed to DOT’s consent order to avoid litigation, but did not concede to violating the act.