The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) recently fined Scandinavian Airline System (SAS) $200,000 for violating federal law and DOT’s website accessibility requirements.
DOT’s website accessibility requirements apply to U.S. and foreign air carriers that have a website and operate at least one aircraft seating more than 60 passengers. As set forth at 14 CFR Part 382.43(c), DOT requires that these airlines make the public-facing webpages on their primary websites accessible to individuals with disabilities—i.e., the websites must satisfy the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 Level AA Standard (“WCAG 2.0 Level AA).
SAS attempted to comply with DOT’s requirements by setting up a separate, assistive version of its website for individuals with disabilities, instead of ensuring that its primary website conformed to WCAG 2.0 Level AA. Section 382.43(c)(3) of DOT’s rule allows airlines to create an alternative version of their website for individuals with disabilities only when conforming their primary website would “constitute an undue burden or fundamentally alter the information provided by that page.” SAS’s assistive website was developed by a third-party vendor who assured SAS that it conformed to WCAG 2.0 Level AA.
DOT took enforcement action against SAS, taking the position that SAS’s creation of the alternative, assistive website violated the DOT’s website accessibility requirements, the Air Carrier Access Act, 14 CFR 259.5, and also constituted unfair and deceptive practices and unfair methods of competition in violation of 49 U.S.C. § 41712.
DOT and SAS recently settled the matter pursuant to a consent order whereby SAS agreed to cease and desist from future similar violations and pay a compromise civil penalty of $200,000.
This settlement signals that airlines should make their primary website compliant with WCAG 2.0 Level AA in order to avoid DOT scrutiny.