LOS ANGELES – Asiana Airlines has been penalized $500,000 for failing to assist family members of passengers on a flight that crashed last year at San Francisco airport, federal transportation officials said Tuesday.
The fine announced by the U.S. Department of Transportation was a first: No airline has broken U.S. laws that require prompt and generous assistance to the loved ones of crash victims.
Three people died and dozens were injured on July 6 when Asiana Flight 214 clipped a seawall while landing.
An investigation by the Department of Transportation concluded that some family members had not been contracted two days after the crash, and it took five days to reach the families of all 291 passengers.
"The last thing families and passengers should have to worry about at such a stressful time is how to get information from their carrier," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a prepared statement.
Many of the families live in South Korea or China, meaning the airline was their main source of information on the crash half a world away.
Asiana did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment sent after business hours to its South Korea offices.
According to a consent order it signed with the department, Asiana will pay $400,000 in a fine and gets a $100,000 credit for "costs in sponsoring multiple industry-wide conferences and training sessions in 2013, 2014 and 2015, to provide lessons learned."
Federal investigators also said Asiana did not actively encourage contact from families, failing to widely publicize a toll-free help line until the day after the crash. When family members did call, they were initially routed to a reservations line rather than a crisis hotline.
Asiana also lacked translators and personnel trained in crash response, the transportation department found.
In the late 1990s, after airlines were roundly criticized for ignoring desperate requests for information after crashes, Congress required carriers to dedicate significant attention to families of passengers.
Last fall, The Associated Press reviewed plans filed by two dozen foreign airlines and found cases in which carriers had not updated their family assistance plans as required.
Since AP's story, several airlines have updated family assistance plans and filed new paperwork with the Department of Transportation. Among them is Asiana's bigger rival, Korean Air.