Stand Up for Your Rights

I just received a call from the Executive Office of American Airlines saying they have started an investigation regarding issues I had with travelling during the Freedom Cruise. I also received an email yesterday from the Aviation Consumer Protection and Enforcement Agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The issue was rooted with travelling with the cycler. The problems occurred at Miami International.

The first problem was that the cycler and ancillary equipment and supplies was the last items unloaded from the plane from Chicago. Medically assistive devices are to have priority per D.O.T. regulations. That was nothing compared to returning from the cruise. The following letter to the President and CEO of American Airline s will describe what happened. We need to stand up for our rights and not be bullied. As dialyzors, we fall under the guidelines as being disabled. Travelling with NxStage is hard enough – don’t let it be any harder.

Gerald J. Arpey
President & CEO
American Airlines
Dear Mr. Arpey,

My name is Richard Berkowitz and I am a home dialyzor using the portable NxStage System One dialysis machine. I recently flew American Airlines from Chicago O’Hare to Miami International and back per Record Locator OFXNWN. I had as baggage two oversized pieces containing medical equipment, more specifically the dialysis machine and ancillary equipment and supplies. As you know, D.O.T. document, 14 CFR Part 382 stipulates that medical assistive devices fly free and have priority over other baggage. Both met federal guidelines regarding weight and size. When making my reservation I mentioned I would be travelling with medical assistive devices. I also called one week prior to my trip to make sure that was noted on my itinerary.

My flight out of O’Hare was seemingly uneventful and my medical devices were put on the plane at no charge as it should be. Miami was another story. My two medical baggage items were the last to be delivered to the baggage claim area. That was nothing compared to what happened at Miami International on my return Flight# 846 on January 10th.

At Miami International, I got in line at the Self Check-in area. The agent did not know how to deal with my medical baggage. I was a bit surprised because it was supposed to be noted in my records. He called for a supervisor to grant authorization. I had no real complaint with the agent although he should have known the correct procedures. It is the supervisor to which I have a problem. Luciano DiLorenzo, Badge# 1056604, was arrogant and rude. He refused to allow the medical baggage to board at no charge. It wasn’t just that, but it was his attitude and the manner in which he treated my wife and myself. All he said was a strident “no” at the beginning. After I tried to explain the federal guidelines, he was obstinate and replied “my final answer is NO”.

As you know, each airline carrier must have a Complaints Resolution Officer available to adjudicate issues that occur at the airport. When I asked to speak to the CRO, Mr. DiLorenzo refused. He was belligerent and unyielding. As you are aware, a passenger has the right to speak to the CRO, especially if an issue regarding a disability arises. I then had to follow Mr. DiLorenzo to get his name and badge number. Fortunately, as I was about to pay for the baggage, I noticed a gentleman wearing a sports coat with an American Airlines Badge. As it turned out, he was one of the managers on duty. He directed the agent to put the baggage on. But I still have a significant issue regarding the treatment my wife and I received from Mr. DiLorenzo. He obviously needs training in terms of customer interaction and disability procedures.

I thought that was the end of my problems, but it wasn’t. When we arrived at O’Hare we waited over an hour for all of our baggage to be delivered to the baggage claim area. One of the medical pieces never came. As it turned out, the item with Baggage Tag# AA151155 was not loaded on the plane and was delivered the following day as evidenced with Baggage Delivery Order# 325RCD2 by Global Delivery. As the DOT Guidelines stipulate, medically assistive devices have priority. What that means is they should be first on and first off. The fact I did not receive all the baggage precluded me from dialyzing once I got home.

I must say that I am not pleased at all with my American Airlines experience. People with disabilities must not be discriminated against. It’s apparent that, as with all large organizations, American Airlines has its weak links. I’m confident you are concerned about such issues and trust you will see to it American Airlines will do better in the future. As a patient advocate, I believe it was my duty to write you and also report this incident to the Aviation Consumer Protection and Enforcement Agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation.


Richard Berkowitz

Email from the Department of Transportation.

Mr. Berkowitz:

Thank you for writing to us concerning your problem involving disability issues. We were sorry to hear of your dissatisfaction and will investigate your complaint.

We are sending the company a copy of your complaint and asking it to reply to you, with a copy to us. We will review the response and take further action, as appropriate. We will advise you of the disposition of your complaint when our investigation is concluded; however, you should be aware that due to the time necessary for the carrier to conduct its own review of your complaint and get back to you and us, coupled with our need to review your case and the hundreds of others that we receive each year, our response to you will likely take some time.

In addition to ensuring prompt corrective action when a complaint and carrier response indicate that the airline’s policies and procedures are not in compliance with the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), the Department generally will pursue further enforcement action on the basis of a number of complaints from which it may infer a pattern or practice of discrimination. However, where one or a few complaints describe particularly egregious conduct on the part of a carrier and those complaints are supported by adequate evidence, we will pursue enforcement action as our resources permit. You should be aware that the Department is statutorily limited in the remedies it may pursue for violations of the ACAA. In this regard, the Department may not award monetary damages or pecuniary relief to the injured party. The Department is limited to issuing cease and desist orders proscribing unlawful conduct by carriers in the future and assessing civil penalties payable to the government. The Department may only take such action through a settlement or after a formal hearing before an administrative law judge. Particularly egregious records of repeated violations may warrant the revocation of a carrier’s economic authority to operate. To obtain a personal monetary award of damages, a complainant would have to file a private legal action that may be based on private contract rights or on civil rights statutes that provide for a private right of action.

We have also entered your complaint in our computerized industry monitoring system, and the company will be charged with the complaint in our monthly complaint report. This report is made available to the aviation industry, the news media and the general public so that both consumers and air travel companies can compare the overall and disability-related complaint records of individual airlines. We also use this complaint data to track trends or spot areas of concern which we feel may warrant further action in the future. This system also serves as a basis for rulemaking, legislation and research.

A copy of the publication “New Horizons” that summarizes the Department of Transportation’s ACAA rules is available at Other useful consumer information for air travelers, including the above referenced complaint report and our pamphlet Fly-Rights, a Consumer’s Guide to Air Travel, can be found on our website at

I hope this information is useful. Thank you for taking the time to contact us.

Norman A. Strickman
Assistant Director for Aviation Consumer Protection
U.S. Department of Transportation


Alexander A. Taday III
Aviation Industry Analyst
US Department of Transportation

I had the same thing happen in Orlando with United airlines last summer. I was prepared (I thought) with a copy of the ACAA regulation. I had no trouble at all leaving Seattle on Alaska airlines. They never questioned my NxStage or medical equipment and quickly checked me in. Leaving Orlando, however, was a nightmare. They were not at all familiar with the law and told me I would be charged to the tune of $300 for all the ‘overweight’ luggage. The supervisor was also unaware of the regulations regarding medical equipment. After an hour of extreemly stressful arguments they finally checked my machine. My young son and I had to literally run to the gate to catch our flight. Then the gal at the gate wasn’t goint to let me on because I was carrying a box of cartridges. Another several minutes of arguments finally got us on just before the plane taxied away. My son and I were so stressed it was terrible. When we got to Seattle, my machine wasn’t on the plane because of the delay they caused us at checkin. We had to drive all the way back to the airport 5 hours later to get it off the next arriving flight. I also filed a compaint with the department of transportation. The airline wasn’t fined because they did ultimately let my machine on the plane free of charge. I did receive a half-hearted apology from the airline plus two $100 vouchers for future travel with United so that I would ‘try them again’.

Well, we are going to ‘try them again’ when we travel to Colorado next month. I called reservations last week to see if they are now aware of the policies regarding my dialysis machine. The gal was not and said repeatedly my machine would be charged as overweight baggage. Period. When I suggested that she was not aware of the regulations, she said “I was wrong and she was right”. She refused to let me speak to a supervisor. Fortunately, I still had the email from the customer relations agent at United that handled my complaint last summer. When I emailed her with this current situation, she called back to investigate the agent that I talked to and to make sure there were notations in my reservation about my medical equipment. I will bring all the complaint correspondance from last summer with me. This time, however, I will not work so hard to make them adhere to the regulations. If they don’t this time, I will let them charge me and they will suffer a big fine from the dep of transportation. The stress from that situation was horrible.

You might want to try Delta, they knew the law, no problems. I would not take that crap from them. Can you say lawsuit and media??? I would not try their airline again, they deserved to be punished, in the wallet. Southwest Airline does not charge for any bags, that I am aware of, I would fly with them. People only do to you what you let them get away with, and we need to be firm. You could file a private lawsuit under the ADA. However, laws change from year to year, best to consult an attorney. Since the airline has deep pockets, I am sure you could get the attorney to take the case on a contigency fee basis.

You realize, NDXUFAN12, that without regulation, no-one on dialysis would have a leg to stand on with regard to bringing medical equipment as luggage–let alone free? :wink: