Friday, March 22, 2013

Air India at receiving end for mishandling needs of disabled passenger

Dear Colleagues, 

Ever since the Air India outsourced the entire operation at the Terminal 3, Delhi Airport to an external agency, there are frequent reports of mistreatment meted out to passengers with disabilities. Earlier, there were fewer complaints when Air India staff received the passengers with special needs and handled the airport operations. 

While the DGCA's CAR is enforceable also on the agency to which the work is outsourced when it comes to passenger's amenities more so mandatory requirements to be met regarding rights of persons with disabilities during their carriage by air. In this case, Air India cannot escape the blame for the vicarious liability for it is the solemn duty of the national carrier to ensure that the rights of the passengers with disabilities are respected and enforced as per the DGCA's CAR on the carriage of persons with disabilities and person with reduced mobility by Air.

This time thee incident happened with none other than Mr. Javed Abidi of the NCPEDP fame who currently is also serving as the Chair- Disabled People's International (DPI). Javed returned to Delhi from Tokyo on Wednesday evening on Air India Flight AI-307 along with a companion after a 10 hours 40 minutes long flight.  He had been assured by the cabin crew before they landed that a message had been sent to the Delhi ground staff to ensure that his wheelchair was brought to the aircraft.

While all the passengers disembarked at Delhi, Javed had to wait an additional one hour inside the aircraft as the airline sent his wheelchair to the baggage pick-up area inside the terminal and which had to be retrieved. As an internationally established rule, if a person with disability is travelling with his or her wheelchair, it should be brought to the aircraft for the passenger to exit on the same wheelchair for wheelchairs are highly customized mobility equipments almost like a part of the body and cannot be just replaced by any ordinary wheelchair.

The worst part was that while Javed and his companion were still on board the flight, the cleaning staff began their operation disregarding his very presence in the aircraft. This shows an ugly face of the aviation sector and their attitude to disability and the dire need of training and sensitization not only the airline and aerodrome staff but also the operators/ agencies who are increasingly engaged for outsourcing the passenger handling job by the national carrier.

It is shocking for all of us to see that even the regulator- the DGCA continues to treat such lapses with relative ease and indifference which only reinforce the lackadaisical attitude of the airliners and aerodrome operators. It’s high time that the existing penal provisions are forcefully used against the defaulting agencies and hit them hard where it pinches most – the financial penalties. 

Here are the news coverage by Mail Online India & Times of India.

Coverage in Mail Online India

WHIPLASH: The ugly face of the aviation sector revealed in attitudes to disability

PUBLISHED: 22:12 GMT, 21 March 2013 | UPDATED: 22:12 GMT, 21 March 2013

It is pathetic that people with disabilities continue to be ill-treated and humiliated by airlines in this country. 
From the end of a ten hour 40 minute flight of IC 307 when all the passengers disembarked the planed, Javed Abidi must have spent each moment in the hour long wait for his wheelchair realising how dependent on the hospitality of others he really was, till the chair finally showed up at the doors. 

Half of that time was spent in negotiations of how Abidi could instead opt to be seated in the standard service wheelchair, while his custom designed wheelchair was being searched for, only to be humiliatingly shifted once again to his own chair. 

He may have hardened to condescension over time but being parcelled around, no self-respecting man will suffer. And Javed Abidi is not self-pitying or resigned to his fate. He happens to be the director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), one of India's most respected organisations keeping vigil over the rights of the disabled. 

Nor is Abidi a first time victim to such indignity. His career as an advocate of the disabled's rights began after bearing insults by media companies who denied him opportunity.He is also just one among many such people who have been at the receiving end of Indian aviation sector's disgraceful attention.

Last year Jeeja Ghosh, a 43 year old woman with cerebral palsy, reached Kolkata to catch a Spice- Jet flight to Goa only to be offloaded from the plane for her condition. In May 2011, Kingfisher Airline deplaned a blind woman from a Mumbai-Goa flight.  And this year Tony Kurian, 22, a visually impaired student was denied tickets by Indigo.

The only constant in all these cases is not just the offence but the relative ease and indifference with which it is treated. And nothing short of stringent punishment is likely to rid the aviation sector of this insensitive attitude. Read more:  Daily Mail

Coverage in Times of India

21 March 2013, NEW DELHI: It was a 10 hour and 40 minute long flight from Tokyo to Delhi and JavedAbidi, the director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) and a paraplegic, was looking forward to getting back home. However, Abidi had to wait an additional one hour inside the aircraft as the airline sent his wheelchair to the baggage pick-up area inside the terminal and had to have it retrieved.

"As an internationally established rule, if a disabled person is travelling with his or her wheelchair, it should be brought to the aircraft for the passenger to exit on that. I make it a practice to not only inform the airline at the departing station but also before we are to land that I will need my wheelchair. Despite taking all such precautions even this time, Air India sent my wheelchair to the conveyor belt and I was made to wait an hour for it," said Abidi.

Abidi had returned to Delhi from Tokyo on Wednesday evening on Air India flight AI-307 along with a companion and had been assured by the cabin crew before they landed that a message had been sent to the Delhi ground staff to ensure that his wheelchair was brought to the aircraft.

"For 30 minutes the crew tried to convince me to use their wheel chair. However, there is very little understanding that a wheelchair is not just any wheelchair. For instance, mine has been customized to suit my needs and body type. I would also be required to change chairs again had I used the airline's wheelchair. Anywhere else the airline could have been sued for this," said Abidi.

He also said that in clear violation of DGCA rules, the cleaning staff was permitted on the aircraft even as he and his companion were on board. Air India officials refused to comment on the issue.

Read at source: Times of India

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Air India makes eldely persons to take stairs at Ahmedbad airport

Dear Colleagues,

Defying the DGCA's Civil Aviation Requirement on the carriage of persons with disabilties and persons with reduced mobiltiy by air, Air India continues to make persons with mobility challenges to take stairs and then climb on to high floor buses.

The video recording by our friend Dr. Piyush Ranjan Rout  from his hand held device at Ahmedabad airport  below explains how ill prepared and ill-trained are our airports to provide accessibility to those with reduced mobility :

The step ladders are not accessible for people with reduced mobility, however, several airlines continue to use them and the passengers keep suffering in silence. This is unethical and  uncalled for on the part of Air India and the aerodrome operator.

Indigo has set a wonderful example of ramped approach which is a viable option for the airlines to provide accessibility for persons with reduced mobility in  comparison to the costly ambulift. This atleast allows a person to be pushed manually by support staff rather than being lifted by four people risking the person's safety an dignity. However, if such a ramped access is not provided, ambulifts should be provided invariably.

Also the provision of high flour buses still continues at several airports which must stop immediately and low floor accessible buses must be provided in all such situations. Until then, an accessible van should be provided for persons with reduced mobility at all airports (including smaller airports in the states).

At major airports, effort should be to provide aerobridges so that such situations don't arise. However, at smaller airports accessibility must be given its due place to be compliant to the DGCA's CAR on carriage of persons with disabilities and persons with reduced mobility by air.

The DGCA should take an immediate action to put an end to such practices and instruct airlines to either provide ambulift and accessible transport at all airports or provide ramped acess to aircraft and accessible trasnport in absence of level aerobridges. This would be in line with the CAR mandate referred above.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Jet Airways leads by example- allows service dog with Child with Autism

Dear Colleagues,

In an unprecedented, but very right based move, the Jet Airways - an Indian Airliner, allowed a service dog for a passenger with autism. So far, people had only seen passengers with visual or orthoepedic disabilities allowed to travel with a guide dog/service animal.

I welcome this move and commend the team at Jet Airways for this great and pathbreaking initiative. However, the newsreport that appeared needs little correction. Simbaa - the labrador is not a pet (for there are different rules and also charges for the pets to be transported by air), but a service dog trained to assist his master ( a person with disability). Therefore,  allowing the service dog to travel with the master free of cost is within the ambit of the DGCA's CAR on carriage of persons with disabilities by air.  The airline deserves accolades for a correct interpretation of the CAR.

Also, the effort and perseverence of the family to insist for their legal rights and the cooperation of the Jet Airways is a wonderful example of how through an open dialogue, things can be sorted out amicably so beautifully.

Here is the news report from Times of India penned by Manju V.

Dog’s day out: Airline lets pet fly with autistic master

By Manju V, TNN | Mar 3, 2013, 04.58 AM IST

MUMBAI: When eight-year-old Jiyon Ganguly walked into Kolkata airport with his labrador Simbaa one January morning, the terminal paused in its steps. Passengers gawped and as Jiyon's mother Parama Bhattacharya and Simbaa stepped into a curtained enclosure for the pre-flight security check, the stunned woman security officer accidentally dropped her hand-held metal detector.

"She almost fainted. There was such a commotion. But Simbaa being the gentleman he is, stood calm through it all," Parama said.

After all, it was probably the first time in India that an autistic passenger was allowed to board a flight with his therapy dog. Most airline websites say only passengers with physical disabilities — those with a visual or hearing impairment — can board a flight with dogs trained to assist them. There's no mention of mental health assistance dogs.

In India, as in many countries abroad, only humans are permitted to fly in passenger cabins. Animals have to go cargo, except in cases where the animal in question is trained to assist a passenger with a disability. The general rule is clear: service dogs are allowed onboard flights. But most airlines interpret it to mean only persons with physical disabilities.

This is the grey zone that Jiyon, afflicted with Autism Spectrum Behavioural Disorder, and his therapy dog Simbaa, a nine-month-old labrador, navigated on January 12, when, after two weeks of negotiations, Jet Airways let them fly together.

It started with a traumatic train journey from Mumbai to Kolkata on December 23. Since dogs are allowed only in first class cabins on Indian Railways, the family booked themselves into one on Duronto Express. On board, Simbaa ate the pesticide meant for rats. Since the train did not have a halt, the labrador spent night and day vomiting. The dog settled after a visit to a veterinarian in Kolkata, but the family was jolted.

"I had checked airline websites and passengers with mental disabilities are not allowed to carry their therapy dogs on board. The only option was to send the dog into the cargo hold," Parama said. That was when she decided to speak to Jet Airways.

She got a negative response from the airline's reservation team in Kolkata. "They asked me what is autism, whether it is an abnormality, whether it is retardation. I explained and they said I should speak to their medical team in Mumbai. The Jet doctor said they had never done this before, but he asked me to get a medical certificate from Jiyon's doctor on his condition and the need for him to travel with the dog," Parama said, adding that his tone suggested there was little chance the dog would be allowed.

Parama said she persisted with the doctor and reasoned that if they could pay heed to passengers with physical needs, why not those with mental issues. The airline finally agreed to let the boy travel with his therapy dog. "It was probably the first time that any airline in India had allowed this. Jet took care of everything right from the time we entered the terminal building. It was the best flight Jiyon and I had ever taken," said Parama.

A Jet Airways spokesperson said that as a policy, they permit service dogs for disabled guests or those with special needs and there is no charge applicable.

Dr Harish Shetty, the psychiatrist treating Jiyon, said: "It's fantastic that an airline has recognized this disability and is compassionate. Therapy dogs have a calming influence on the patient. When flying, the child is in an environment that he is not used to, so having his dog on board helps greatly.'' The doctor said he had not come across any cases in the past when a patient with a mental disability was allowed to fly with his/her therapy dog.
News Source: Times of India