Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Staff of Stansted Airport, UK denies assistance because the passenger “didn’t look disabled”!

Dear Colleagues,

Here is a report from the Independent UK about the Stansted Airport in UK refusing to assist a disabled passenger and asking for a charge to help!

A disabled passenger has branded Stansted Airport staff “disgusting” after she was denied assistance because she “didn’t look disabled”.

Nathalie Allport-Grantham, 23, was flying to Nice with Ryanair on 31 December 2017 when a member of staff refused her the assistance she had confirmed ahead of her flight.

Nathalie Allport-Grantham uses wheelchair to manage long distances
(Photo: The Independent)
She had requested the use of a wheelchair to help her to the gate, as well as assistance carrying her hand luggage onboard the aircraft.
But while she was assigned a wheelchair at check-in, she says it was later taken away from her by airport staff who then told her that she was “wasting their time” by asking for help.

Allport-Grantham suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a connective tissue disorder which causes chronic pain and joint dislocation, as well as Marfan syndrome and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome – a condition which affects the heart, and can cause dizziness and fainting when the patient is standing.

Although she uses a wheelchair part-time, all are invisible disabilities.

She had confirmed wheelchair assistance when buying her ticket on 5 November, opting not to bring her own chair because the airport would provide one instead. Airlines such as Ryanair log the assistance needs of their passengers, but it is the airports in question that fulfil the requests. Stansted contracts its PRM (passengers with reduced mobility) service to an external provider, Omniserv.

Allport-Grantham – who was travelling with her boyfriend – arrived at Stansted in good time for her 7.55am flight, with her boarding pass specifying that she was a special assistance passenger. She told The Independent that on arrival, staff gave her a wheelchair and asked her boyfriend to push her to the gate – common practice at Stansted for wheelchair passengers travelling with companions. 

Staff warned her that there were no lifts available, but assured her that a member of staff would help her up the stairs of the aircraft and carry her hand luggage for her.

The couple made it to a lounge area en route to the gate, where Allport-Grantham transferred from the wheelchair to a more comfortable seat. The wheelchair was quickly taken by an airport employee, who promised to bring it straight back. He never returned, however, and Allport-Grantham was forced to walk to the gate, over five minutes away, where she found two other special assistance passengers waiting to board.

She told The Independent: “I told the lady on duty that I had booked special assistance and needed help with my bags and to get onto the aircraft.

“She looked at me and said, ‘If you want someone to carry your bags, you have to pay £50.’

“I told her I had pre-booked disability assistance and I need help getting onto the aircraft. 

“She said, ‘I’m actually waiting for someone who cannot walk, if you want to get on the plane I suggest you queue up like everyone else. If you don’t want to carry your bag, it’s £50 to have it put in the hold.’

“The person she was waiting for was me, but she was expecting someone who looked more ‘disabled’ than I do. 

“Then she said loudly, in earshot of everyone at the gate: ‘I’ve got disabled people to help and you are wasting their time’. Everyone was staring. It was humiliating.”

When she said she was not allowed to lift anything for medical reasons – lifting can dislocate her joints, tear muscles or rupture internal organs – Allport-Grantham says the employee told her, “Maybe next time don’t bring a heavy bag then.”

After the encounter reduced her to tears, she says a male airport worker came over to ask what was going on, and the agent said, “This lady is wasting my time.”

The male employee checked Allport-Grantham’s name against the list on the screen and confirmed that she was the passenger they had been expecting. “He was really nice and found me a spare wheelchair, but the lady didn’t even apologise,” she said.

In the meantime, the flight was completing the boarding process, and the other two special assistance passengers were already on the plane. Allport-Grantham had sent her boyfriend – who is French, and was visiting family – on ahead as the wheelchair was being sourced.

Allport-Grantham – who carries a card for use on public transport, informing people of her disabilities – says that she was then wheeled outside to the plane but left in the rain for nearly 10 minutes until baggage handlers had finished loading the hold luggage. 

Calling herself “emotionally drained”, she told The Independent that she had contacted Stansted and Ryanair via Twitter. She had received no response from Ryanair, while Stansted had requested more information.

She said: “It isn’t the first time this has happened to me, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. I want to make a fuss because I believe big companies have a responsibility not only to follow the law but also to educate their staff.

“I was gobsmacked by her behaviour. It’s unbelievable that an employee would be so certain that I was faking it that she would speak to me like that.

“People have a sense of entitlement that they ‘know’ who is and isn’t disabled, and if you don’t fit into their idea of disability, it means you’re a liar. It is so sad that people think they know you by just looking at you.

“I would love to be able to carry my own bag, and I would love to be able to manage steps to the aircraft without help.”

A spokesperson for Ryanair said: “While we regret any inconvenience caused, wheelchair services at London Stansted are operated by Omniserv – at great expense to the airlines – and London Stansted is responsible for this service and any problems with it.”

Stansted Airport told The Independent: “Of course, we are very disappointed to hear about Ms Allport-Grantham’s experience and apologise for any distress caused.

“Special assistance is booked directly with the airline and handled by the airport’s PRM provider Omniserv. We are speaking to the provider to find out more about the circumstances of the incident.”

Monday, November 13, 2017

Woman forced to CARRY her disabled sister off Jetstar flight after the airline failed to provide a wheelchair when they arrived

  • Danae Florias was forced to carry her disabled sister, Marissa, off a Jetstar flight, 100 meters to the terminal
  • It's believed Ms Florias was also forced to assemble a wheelchair by herself without help from Jetstar staff
  • Jetstar has confirmed it has apologised to its customer and an investigation has been launched 

13 Nov 2017,  Daily Mail Australia

Airline Jetstar has come under fire for not providing a wheelchair to help a woman take her disabled sister from the plane to the terminal.

Perth woman Danae Florias and her sister 26-year-old Marissa, who has cerebral palsy, had been on a holiday to Melbourne last month and were returning to Perth on Jetstar.

The woman was disgusted with the treatment her and her sister were shown by the airline, telling Nine News she was forced to carry her sister 100 metres to the terminal without a wheelchair.

It's believed the wheelchair was supposed to be there, but wasn't, and when she got to the terminal, she had to assemble a supplied wheelchair herself without any help from staff. 'Eventually my sister started crying, thinking they'd lost her wheelchair. She gets very anxious and upset easy so I couldn't calm her down,' said Ms Florias.

When Daily Mail contacted the airline, it said that other media had not told the whole story behind the incident. 'While our customer service officer had a wheelchair on hand to assist with the customer’s transfer from the aircraft to the terminal, we understand this did not meet her specific needs. He then offered to provide additional support,' said a spokesperson. 

In a statement the airline confirmed that it had advised Ms Florias that the investigation into the matter, and the ongoing chain of events, was ongoing. 'Every year Jetstar carries 60,000 passengers with specific needs,' said a Jetstar spokesperson.

'These reports are concerning and do not reflect the normal flight experience of our disabled passengers, many of whom fly with Jetstar often.'  'We apologize to the family for the distress involved and we're investigating how this occurred.'

This is the latest bungle in a series of incidents the airline has come under fire for of its treatment of customers with a disability. In 2009 the budget line upset three-time Paralympic gold medallist Kurt Fearnley, who said he felt humiliated when the airline wouldn't allow him to use his own wheelchair. And more recently, renowned Australian musician Jim Conway was left frustrated by the airline, unable to board a flight to Melbourne earlier this year, because it did not have measures in place to transfer him safely into his seat. 

Ms Florias told Nine news that she would never fly Jetstar again.

Source: Daily Mail UK

Friday, October 13, 2017

CISF takes steps to make Screening at Airports more friendly to Flyers with Disabilities

Dear Colleagues,

Here is the coverage from The Wire on our recent meeting with the DG CISF wherein issues of hassles faced by persons with disabilities at the time of screening at the Air ports were the focus of discussion and the DG, CISF agreed to examine ways by which this experience could be made more friendly.

Bureau of Civil Aviation and Security Allows for X-Ray Scanning for PwDs as Measure of Last Resort


The developments assume significance as in the past, several persons with disabilities have suffered humiliation at the hands of security or airlines staff at airports across India.

New Delhi: The long fight of disability rights activists for making air travel more friendly and sensitive towards the needs of persons with disability (PwD) appears to have finally borne some fruit.  The Bureau of Civil Aviation and Security (BCAS) has accepted the recommendations of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) to use X-ray scanning for prosthetics and orthotics only as a measure of the last resort. Instructions have also been issued to make wheelchair users get up from their chairs only in exceptional cases for security checks.

The decision was made known at a meeting convened by director general of the CISF, O.P. Singh, on October 11, which had representatives of the BCAS, Ministry of Civil Aviation, the Air Passengers Association of India and representatives of the disability sector. The meeting, which lasted close to 90 minutes, was attended by top members of the CISF along with its senior officers deployed at the airports.

Among those present in the meeting were Javed Abidi, director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), cyclist Aditya Mehta, Subhash Chandra Vashishth, Rajesh Bhatia, Nipun Malhotra and associate professor of physiology at the University College of Medical Sciences, Delhi, Satendra Singh.

Instances of humiliation of PwDs
The developments assume significance as in the past, several PwDs have suffered humiliation at the hands of security or airlines staff at airports across India. In 2013, above-knee amputee and marketing professional Suranjana Ghosh Aikara was made to take off her prosthetic leg for a scan at both Delhi and Mumbai airports.

Anjlee Agarwal of the Samarthyam National Centre for Accessible Environments, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, faced two odd situations in early 2012; first, when she was bodily lifted by male porters and the other, when she was carted around on a luggage trolley. Her experience made her seek more dignified travel for PwD travellers..

SC had issued directives
In 2012, Jeeja Ghosh, a teacher at the Indian Institute for Cerebral Palsy in Kolkata, was made to deplane because the staff found her to be ‘abnormal’. Following her appeal, the Supreme Court constituted a committee and directed the DGCA and the BCAS to consult with disabled section of India’s population.

However, according to Singh, despite directions by the apex court, the BCAS continues to evade this directive. However, Singh lauded the role being played by the CISF, saying it continued to “remain receptive”. Singh also noted that the BCAS had chosen to remain absent from the high-level meeting chaired by the director general of the DGCA with the Airports Authority of India, all the airlines and the disability sector on April 7 this year.

However, Abidi appreciated the change in the approach of both the CISF and the BCAS towards the issue. “There has been a lot of discussion and exchange of notes between the CISF and BCAS of late. It was a well-rounded meeting, almost a closure type, and I was impressed by the seriousness of purpose. It was called to problem-solve and to bring about a change,” he said.

BCAS constituted a panel to look into demands of PwDs
Stating that the CISF has already sent its recommendations to the BCAS and that the latter had constituted a committee which held its meeting a few days ago, Abidi said that the CISF had only invited one user of prosthetics and another from the wheelchair lobby from the diverse disability sector. “So the focus was more on prosthetics and the concerns of the wheelchair users”, he said.

As for other categories of PwDs, he said, they too suffer problems but these are not related to security and need to be handled by the civil aviation ministry and other agencies. “The visually impaired are facing a big problem these days since all the airports have been made sound-free and therefore, the announcement of change of gate for departure of flight is not made through loudspeakers. So a blind person is unable to know that the gate has been changed,” Abidi said.

“Similarly, persons with speech impairment find it difficult to tell their preferences to the airlines staff or about food preference to the air-stewards,” he added.

X-ray to be used as a last resort
Acknowledging that the users of prosthetics, orthotics and wheelchairs remain among the worst affected, Abidi said that the new developments are very positive. “Broadly, it has been decided that in the case of wheelchair users, X-ray should be the last option. The standard practice globally was to profile the passengers, frisk them, make them go through the explosive trace detectors (ETD) if need be and to send their gadgets for X-rays if there was greater suspicion,” he said.

“The world over, X-ray is rarest of rare and in all my travels abroad, even to the US in the post 9/11 era, never have I been asked to get off my wheelchair. However, in Indian airports, it is a norm”, Abidi said. Moreover, he lamented, unlike airports abroad, the CISF personnel have been following the norm of making wheelchair users get off their chairs as part of the security drill. So what is rarest of rare the world over, is their preferred norm here,” he added.

Abidi said the blame should not be placed on the CISF alone. “What should also be remembered is that while the CISF drew the flak, the policies are actually drawn up by the BCAS, which prepares the manual and instructions. So the real change has to occur not with the CISF but with the BCAS.”
The rights activist is hopeful that meaningful changes are being effected. He pointed out how the CISF recently undertook a full training programme for its personnel to sensitise them towards autism. The programme was conducted in association with Merry Barua’s organisation, Action for Autism. “It had sensitised the CISF personnel about the behaviour and concerns of passengers suffering from autism and how they were like to react in different situations“, Abidi said.

Note: This article was authored by Sh. Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar and was published on 13th October 2017 at The Wire

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Discriminated for no fault: Airlines, airports in India fail their ‘special’ fliers

Aug 29, 2017, 1:12 am IST  | DECCAN CHRONICLE. | DONITA JOSE

Hyderabad: For the disabled, journeys on domestic flights are tales of never-ending turbulence. Days after the de-boarding of para-athlete Madhu Bagri from a Hyderabad-bound plane, the demand for standardisation of air travel protocols for the disabled has grown stronger. 

Hyderabad: International para-athlete Suvarna Raj says that she was de-boarded from a plane in a similar manner last month. “I reached a little late than usual and was given my boarding pass. But they denied me entry because my security check would take longer,” she says. She missed her flight and was allocated a seat on a flight which departed the next day. 

Experts say that such an incident would have never occurred had India been following International Protocol and using Explosive Trace Detection Systems (ETDs). These systems allow for security checks to be carried out without disabled persons having to part with their accessibility gear. 

A look at the figures (courtesy Times of India)
Nipun Malhotra, the founder of the Nipman Foundation, says, “I filed an RTI and found that over 77 airports in the country have ETDs, but they are not being used anywhere. Instead, we are forced to be transferred from our wheelchair or remove our prosthetic limbs in the name of security.”

Persons with disability ask why they have to undergo such humiliation when the necessary technology is available.

Their troubles do not end after the security check. “As per the procedure that is followed internationally, disabled persons are allowed to take their wheelchairs up to the aircraft door, where they are shifted to aisle chairs which can pass through the cabin. However, in India, the wheelchair goes into the baggage compartment and disabled passengers are physically lifted and carried to their seats, which is not only dangerous but also humiliating,” says Ms Suvarna Raj. Some airlines do not have aisle chairs, in which case the availability of seats in the front row becomes crucial, as was in the case of Madhu Bagri.

As per the protocol to be followed in Boeing flights, disabled persons may be seated in the front row. However, in smaller ATR flights, the emergency exit doors are located in the front, requiring mobile persons to be seated adjacent to them.

Accessibility experts say that some airlines do not have any provision for the assistance of disabled persons, as a result of which they are forced to crawl or drag themselves to their seats, which constitutes a violation of their human rights.

“The crux of the problem is that there is no penalty. Every time a disabled person with some privilege faces a problem, it is highlighted. But many unprivileged disabled persons face problems on a daily basis. Why can’t the Directorate General of Civil Aviation penalise airlines, airports instead of merely issuing warnings?” asks Mr Javed Abidi, the director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People. 

Mr Abidi has helped the CISF chalk out a detailed plan of action. He says that the airline services must incorporate a provision for the declaration of disability at the ticketing stage to avoid such hassles.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Cochin International Airport Snubs Paralympic Champion


Aug 18, 2017, 

Athlete forced to wait in taxi car for 45 mins.

Kochi : Even Sachin Tendulkar tweeted how “extra proud” he was “of Team India’s performance at the World Dwarf Games”, but not everyone shared the same feelings toward the champion athletes. Certainly, not the Cochin International Airport (CIAL) authorities. Kerala athlete Joby Mathew, who was the pride of the 15-member Indian team that bagged 37 medals at the World Dwarf Games held in Canada, with a personal haul of six medals, two of which were Gold, was allegedly humiliated by the airport security on his triumphant homecoming.

The 41-year-old, who is physically challenged from birth with 60 per cent disabilities, was made to sit inside the taxi, he had hired at the airport, for nearly 45 minutes while the vehicle was tied to a chain for allegedly violating traffic rules inside the premises. “It was a painful experience,” said Joby Mathew, who added that he was “humiliated” by the authorities for a “humanitarian consideration” shown by the taxi driver. “There was lot of rush at the gates and I couldn’t make it through. So, the taxi driver agreed to pick me up some 25 metres further down the exit, but the authorities treated it as a violation and chained the vehicle with me inside,” said Joby.

Ernakulam district sports council president Zakir Hussain who was at the airport to receive the athlete said the authorities kept hold of the vehicle even after being informed about the passenger’s details and his physical condition. Airport director A.C.K. Nair maintained that they had only followed rules and claimed that the athlete’s vehicle was released soon after they found out who he was. “The driver had broken the rules by taking a one-way,” said Mr Nair. Meanwhile, Joby informed that their journey until then had been pleasant as the cabin crew of all three flights they boarded from Canada to Kochi had announced “how proud they were to have us on board”.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Para-Athlete Alleges Mistreatment by Airlines

PTI | 15 Aug 2017

New Delhi : A para athlete today alleged that she was "ill-treated" by the crew of a private airlines and "forcefully offloaded", even as the airlines refuted the claims.

Madhu Bagri, a wheelchair tennis player, said that she had booked herself on a SpiceJet flight from Tirupati to Hyderabad, which was scheduled to take off at 8.25 am. But she was later evicted from the aircraft.

According to the athlete, she was unable to reach her seat as the wheelchair could not fit in between the aisles of the aircraft, leading to an argument with the crew.

"As the aisle was not wide enough for the wheelchair, I was asked to walk or crawl to reach my seat in the third row. When I asked the crew to accommodate me in the front row, they told me that it was an emergency seat and that differently-abled people were barred from occupying it," Bagri told PTI.

"They threw me out with my baggage and left me at the arrivals section of the airport without giving me any solution to reach my destination," she complained.

The tennis player has lodged a complaint with the airport director. The airlines, however, denied any manhandling and ill treatment of the sports person.

"On reaching the aircraft, the passenger insisted on having the front row seat. All front row seats in Q400 Bombardier aircraft are emergency exit rows and hence, passengers with any kind of disability are not allowed to sit on these seats as per the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) rules," a SpiceJet spokesperson said in a statement.

The airline said Bagri was offloaded as the plane was getting delayed, adding that "at no point was she manhandled or mistreated and the SpiceJet women staff assisted her out."

As per the DGCA rules on Carriage by Air - Persons with Disability and/or Persons with Reduced Mobility, airlines shall not allocate those seats to persons with disability or reduced mobility where their presence would impede the crew in performing their duties, obstruct access to emergency equipment or impede emergency evacuation path of the aircraft."

The aviation body also mandates that in case a differently-abled passenger is offloaded, the airline will have to provide assistance.

"If passengers for any reason have to be offloaded, highest possible priority for transportation shall be given to persons with disability or reduced mobility, including their escorts, if any," it says.

SpiceJet noted that it had made arrangements for the athlete on a bigger aircraft which was scheduled to fly later in the day.

"The passenger was given a choice to travel by SpiceJets Boeing flight, which was scheduled to depart at 4:30 pm and she was also informed that the first row seat would be reserved for her. However, the passenger continued to use offensive language," the statement said. PTI JC SRY

Source: India Today

Indigo Airlines Draws Flak over Broken Wheelchair

Dear Colleagues,

We have always found IndiGo Airlines as one of the few good, sensitive, compassionate and responsible Airlines in India. However, after Nipun Malhotra's Facebook post below that went viral, Media quickly picked up the story highlighting the issue.

Facebook post of Mr. Nipun Malhotra:
"Extremely disappointing that I was brought down the plane in a broken wheelchair by
IndiGo DEL - BOM 6E 167 - big safety threat! Sad to see the fall in standards!" 

No doubt, the onus of keeping the wheelchairs safe in the cargo hold lies with IndiGo and yet we have a wheelchair that has visible damage and is potentially unsafe for the passenger now. The policy on refund / bearing the cost of repair/ replacing the broken part of the wheelchair is very vague and doesn't specify that the exact part be replaced or cost paid to the passenger. The modern wheelchairs may range from few thousand rupees to few lakh Indian Rupees.  Here is the coverage in Mumbai Mirror:

By Satish Nandgaonkar, Mumbai Mirror | Updated: Aug 14, 2017

Indigo Airlines was at the receiving end of social media ire after a 29-year-old differently-abled activist, lodged a strong protest against the carrier for allocating him a broken wheelchair when he landed in Mumbai on Sunday morning.

"Extremely disappointing that I was brought down the plane in a broken wheelchair by Indigo6E DELMUM 6E 167 - Big safety threat," Nipun Malhotra tweeted, along with pictures of a damaged spoke of the wheelchair's rim, causing a flutter on social media.

According to Malhotra, they were alighting from the Delhi-Mumbai flight, which arrived at 9:30 am on Sunday, when he noticed the broken wheelchair. "I had my personal attendant travelling with me. When we were coming down the ramp, the wheelchair felt rickety and we noticed that a spoke was broken. It was an extremely scary experience. Once down, the airline staff even tried to stop us from taking pictures," said Malhotra, who is a co-founder and CEO of Nipman Foundation.

The Foundation runs Wheels for Life initiative which encourages donors to donate wheelchairs to the needy. Malhotra not only writes regularly on disability issues, his efforts also led to Zomato incorporating `wheelchair access' filters and wheelchairs being made available at events like NH7 music festival and the Jaipur Literature Festival.

Meanwhile, Indigo's swiftly apologised on Twitter."We believe someone from our team has contacted you. We truly regret the experience and assure you we're treating this with utmost importance. Our passenger safety and comfort is extremely important for us," read a post by the Twitter handle.When contacted, Indigo spokesperson promised to issue a formal response soon but the same was awaited at the time of going to press.

Incidentally, Indigo is one of the most preferred airlines for people with disabilities (PwDs). The carrier has received The Disability Matters Award Asia Pacific thrice, including in 2017.

"Indigo is also the preferred airline for many of us but I am sad that the standards have fallen. I want an unconditional apology from the airline, and it should come out with a Standard Operating Procedure to ensure that this does not happen ever again," Malhotra told Mumbai Mirror.

The incident comes less than a month after para-athlete Suvarna Raj took on Indigo for not allowing her to board the Delhi-Udaipur flight on July 19 claiming there was no time to scan her wheelchair before boarding.

Suvarna had won two medals at 2013 Para Table Tennis Open Championship held in Thailand and was also honoured by President Pranab Mukherjee with National Role Model and National Youth Awards in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

While Suvarna alleged that she reached the IGI airport in Delhi at 12.45 pm for the 1.25 pm flight but was not allowed to board by the airline staff.The airline, meanwhile, refuted her claim and said that she arrived at 12.54 pm, which was 10 minutes after they closed the boarding gate.

"Such things happen regularly to us. A broken spoke of a wheelchair can be dangerous for us who are wheelchair-bound, and Nipun is right in demanding more than a regret from the airline," said Raj, who was allegedly forced to sleep on the floor on the Nagpur-Nizamuddin Garib Rath Express in June after she was allocated an upper birth despite mentioning her disability while booking her tickets.

Indigo is one of India's leading low cost airlines with a 40 per cent market share as of June 2017.  It has a fleet of 136 aircraft, including 22 new generation A320 Neos.

Source: Mumbai Mirror