Saturday, March 17, 2012

Easyjet on the wrong foot again- calls wheel chair user a 'safety risk'

Dear Colleagues,

Another disturbing news, this time from UK, where Ms. Hoarau, a person with paraplegia, while travelling from Paris to Milan, was de-boarded from the aircraft saying that she was not accompanied by a helper hence was  a safety risk! When a fellow passenger offered to play the role of helper, Easyjet officials refused saying he did not check in with her. 

This is despite the fact that there exists a code of conduct to deal with such cases in Britain and during January 2012  the very same airline was heavily penalized for not taking on board three persons with paraplegia during 2008-09.

This is so similar an incident with what happened in Jeeja's Case on 19 Feb 2012. Ah! it goes to prove that the attitude and level of awareness is not very different in India or UK. The world community has to gear itself up to take on these issues by ensuring inclusion as the only mantra from the very childhood. We have seen that the learnings from the short trainings/ refresher courses stay only for shorter periods! Here is the news coverage from online edition of Daily Mail UK:

Disabled woman sues easyJet after being ordered off plane because she was a 'safety risk'

A disabled woman who says easyJet made her feel like a ‘social outcast’ by ordering her off a plane is taking the British budget airline to court in France. Wheelchair-bound Marie-Patricia Hoarau, 40, was told she could not take the flight from Paris to Nice because she was a ‘safety risk’. 

The airline is now facing charges of discrimination for the ‘humiliation’ Hoarau says she suffered. The legal action comes just two months after Easyjet was fined £60,000 by a Paris court for barring three other ‘unsafe’ disabled passengers from flights.

Miss Hoarau, a paraplegic since a cycling accident 20 years ago, said she was allowed to travel unaccompanied on her outbound flight to Paris in March 2010.  But when she boarded the plane to return to Nice, she was ordered back to the check-in desk because she did not have a ‘helper’.

A fellow passenger offered to take on the role, but cabin crew refused because they had not checked in together. She was taken off the plane and given a free ticket on the next flight, while check-in staff found another passenger willing to accompany her.

Ms Hoarau said: ‘I was allowed to board the plane alone, but once I was inside, they told me I couldn’t travel because I didn’t have a helper. ‘I try to cope with this disability every day and being ordered off like that in front of my fellow passengers was a slap in the face.
‘I felt humiliated and like a pariah who has no place in society.’ She added: ‘I am still waiting for a personal apology from EasyJet.

‘Their boss said he was sorry for my unpleasant experience, but only in a press release. I received no phone call from them.’ France’s disabled rights association the APF said: ‘We are looking for an exemplary sentence against Easyjet for discriminating against this woman because of her handicap.’

Easyjet’s French lawyer Philippe van der Meulen said ahead of today’s hearing at the Paris correctional court that the airline had not intended to discriminate against Miss Hoarau.
He added: ‘Britain is one of the only countries in Europe to have a code of good conduct in cases like this.

‘We fly 350,000 people of reduced mobility every year, and less than one per cent of them are accompanied.  ‘In this particular case, it was judged that that the woman was not sufficiently autonomous to fly alone.’ Easyjet’s French director Francois Bacchetta after Miss Hoarau launched her legal action: ‘I understand her feelings but we must respect very strict safety regulations.

'In the event of an emergency, we need to be able to evacuate all passengers in 90 seconds.
‘When a disabled passenger checks in alone, we try to find them a helper but we prefer for this to be done at the check-in.’

In January, Easyjet was fined for refusing to allow three paraplegic passengers aboard flights in Paris in 2008 and 2009.  The French transport ministry said after that ruling, in August 2010: ‘EasyJet cannot hide behind safety regulations for refusing to board passengers who have difficulty moving around.’

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