In the first investigation of its kind, federal transportation officials are reviewing whether Asiana Airlines failed to meet legal obligations to help the families of passengers after one of its planes crashed at San Francisco International Airport this summer.
Three people died and dozens were injured when Asiana Flight 214 clipped a seawall while landing July 6 after a trip from South Korea, where the airline is based. Under U.S. law, Asiana was required to provide a range of services to family members of the 291 passengers, from the prompt posting of a toll-free number to gather and distribute information, to providing transportation and lodging in the Bay Area so family members could comfort injured loved ones.
Congress created the rules in the late 1990s following crashes where airlines were roundly criticized for ignoring family members. However, the government rarely audits the plans to check whether airlines can deliver the assurances they make on paper.
Asiana’s plan was last updated in 2004.
Asiana spokeswoman Lee Hyomin declined to discuss the airline’s family assistance plan, other than to say that Asiana publicized toll-free numbers in the U.S., South Korea and China and used emails and phone calls to communicate with the families of passengers.
Attorney Michael Verna represents passengers and family members who are suing the South Korean airline.
One client, Hector Machorro, was waiting at the airport for the arrival of his wife and young son. After the crash, he was taken to an airport lounge where he waited “for hours not getting any information,” Verna said.
Machorro finally got word from his wife, who called his cellphone from San Francisco General Hospital, where she and their 8-year-old son were being treated for bruising. It wasn’t until several days later that Asiana called Machorro, according to Verna, and then the airline’s representative asked only about his son.