Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Air India goes in defensive mode while discrimination continues

Dear Friends,

Air India has gone on defensive mode in the case of Anjlee Agarwal saying that they did provide a good aisle wheelchair for transfer perhaps thinking that persons with disabilities can be taken for granted and carried like a sac of potatoes and that they would still be thankful to the airlines for treating them that way! 

While it is appreciated that Air India does provide quality services being the national carrier most of the times, however, this doesn't save them from their liability for occasional slips in the quality of service. This incident necessitates that even quality of services needs to be defined in the revised  DGCA's CAR that we look at revising soon to bring more accountability on the part of all stakeholders and also to provide more teeth and quantifiable rights to persons with disabilities/elderly. 
Mani bundled in to the aircraft on a recline aisle chair

I remember when I travelled with Mr. Samuel Mani, an entrepreneur friend with cerebral palsy to attend an official event at Bangkok during 2007, I was scared to see how inhumanly and mechanically the airline staff bundled Samuel on an aisle chair and dragged him to his seat. I tried to intervene, however, they paid no heed and said they handle people like this on daily basis and it was not wrong.  

Instead of first row, he was given a seat much inside

The aisle chair that they used had two rear wheels and they literally dragged Mani to his seats somewhere in the middle of the aircraft while Mani- a person with cerebral palsy struggled, sweated and panicked due to unexplained mechanical handling. while one staff dragged the inclined chair, two held his hands forcefully since his hands were going all over to balance and as a result of sudden posture change!  On top of this, the staff kept commenting and making fun of Mani's inability to reach his seat of his own! 

I wondered why did they chose an aisle chair that did not support Mani's feet, chest and hands! And it seems after all the hue and cry and even after introduction of DGCA's CAR, the system has not improved at all.

A typical aisle chair for use within the aircraft
An example of typical aisle wheelchair will surely have four wheels, handrest, headrest, seat belt in X form, foot rests and foot belts. (Click here for an example). The one that Anjlee was loaded on was a two wheeled recline chair absolutely not fit for use by a person with disability. 

I also wonder on the high quality of service which necessitates "wheelchair passengers to be boarded first and deplaned last in order not to interfere with movement of other passengers." 

Given the circumstances that the toilets in the aircraft are absolutely not accessible, it is all the more traumatic and illogical to hold passengers on their seats for longer duration by putting such restrictions. On the contrary, it should be that they be boarded last and deplaned first to reduce the discomfort till they have accessible toilets on board. At least the wheelchair user can ease himself at the accessible toilets available at the airports!

Another issue is related to frisking of those travelling with assistive aids and devices. artificial limbs. Such travellers are often asked to remove their devices which is cumbersome and humiliating.  When the person is carrying all related documents to prove the genuineness of the equipment, it should be scanned mechanically rather than forcing them to physically remove it. The case of Sudha Chandran, the celebrated actress and dancer who lost her foot and uses an artificial Jaipur foot for mobility has been facing harassment and humiliation at major airports like Mumbai, Trivendrum and Hyderabad to name a few as per Mumbai Mirror report.   Talking about her experiences, Sudha told Mumbai Mirror, "Twice in the last ten days I have been harassed due to my artificial leg. And this happened despite me carrying my medical certificate along. The certificate has all the details including how many screws are there on my artificial leg etc". She further said talking about her experiences about incident of 14 Feb 2012 at Hyderabad airport, "they asked me to undress. I was wearing a salwar kameez and couldn't possibly have undressed. There was also no changing room. They wanted me to remove my artificial leg and show. It was very humiliating. The other people present there came and started watching me. Hope that security people will understand the humiliation that a person with disability goes through due to such checks."

These are critical issues that need to be looked while devising SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) for handling passengers with disabilities. The airlines urgently need to provide accessible toilet facility especially for long distance flights. This is a major area of concern to which airliners have been turning a blind eye. 

Here is the coverage from The Hindu:

Subhash C Vashishth

The Hindu, March 04 2012

Air India defending wrong action: Disability rights activist

Disability rights activist Anjlee Agarwal has taken a strong exception to national carrier Air India's claim that she was “not transported in a luggage-trolley” at Delhi airport recently and that she had been “assisted with standard aisle chair as used universally''.

Responding to the claim by the Corporate Communications department of Air India which on Friday stated that she was “extended all assistance as per industry standards” and “at no point of time she was transported in a luggage-trolley”, Ms. Agarwal said she was appalled that the airline was defending its wrong actions.

“I have been travelling with Air India for the last seven years and the picture of the trolley used for transporting me out of the Goa-Delhi flight AI 660 at T3 in Delhi on Thursday would clearly show that such two-wheeled trolleys are nowhere used as transfer chairs,” she said.

No safety belts

Ms. Agarwal said a look at “transfer chairs'' used the world over by airlines would reveal that they all have four wheels, possess a neck rest, safety belts in ‘X' form which lock up near the shoulder and around the waist, and have a foot rest which is easily approachable.

“The trolley provided to me had no neck rest, no safety belts and no proper foot rest. It had just two wheels because of which it had to be tilted backwards for forward movement. While my neck was jacked backwards, the feet were left dangling in the air. The Air India would thus do better to rectify its fault rather defend them.''

Ms. Agarwal said: “Obviously an attempt is being made to cover up because Air India never uses such trolleys elsewhere. Even while I was going to Goa on February 25 by its flight AI 865, this very airline had provided me a proper aisle chair at T3 for the boarding. It should thus probe why the quality of service deteriorated a few days later.''

Air India has also claimed that “wheelchair passengers are boarded first and deplaned last in order not to interfere with movement of other passengers'' and that it has “a very high standard of facilitation to the passengers requiring wheel chair assistance''.

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