Tuesday, November 19, 2013

US Airways fined 1.2 million for disability discrimination

Dear Colleagues,

In a recent development the US Department of Transportation has fined US Airways $1.2 million for failure to provide wheelchair assistance to passengers with disabilities in Philadelphia and Charlotte, NC.  This fine is one of the largest ever assessed in a disability case by the Department.

I had shared in my last post titled "Fellow passenger's leave aircraft in protest as Captain offloads blind traveller with guide dog" wherein showing solidarity with the blind passenger with a seeing dog, the entire group of travellers had left the aircraft in protest in the instant case.  

According to the US Transportation department’s regulations under the Air Carrier Access Act, airlines are required to provide free, prompt wheelchair assistance when requested by passengers with disabilities. That includes helping passengers move between gates and make connections to other flights. 

Michelle Mohr, a spokeswoman for US Airways said in a telephonic interview to Forbes that the airline is committed to serving passengers with disabilities and had implemented many improvements to its disability assistance program since 2011 and 2012 complaints. 

These improvements included: new airport signage and handheld devices, tablets, dispatching software that allow employees to track the need and wait times of customers and availability of personal and wheelchairs, a new toll free number, more customer assistance reps and managers and easier website access and an upgraded reservation system to ensure that requests are automatically transferred if a customer's itinerary changes.

"Air Access" designed by British Designers Priestmangoode can potentially change how wheelchairs users fly

Priestmangoode: air access designs of the year 2013 shortlist

The 'designs of the year 2013' exhibition opened at London's design museum on March 20th, 2013 presenting the more than  90 nominations of this year's contest, divided into seven categories: architecture, digital, fashion, furniture, graphics, product and transport. 

One of the selected shortlisted projects was 'air access' by British transport designers priestmangoode, a concept which transforms air travel for passengers with reduced mobility (PRMs) with particular benefits for long haul trips on wide body planes. 

Facilitating an easier transition between gate to aircraft, 'air access' is composed of two components: a detachable wheelchair which passengers are assisted into at their departure gate, transporting them onto and off the airliner; and a fixed-frame aisle seat which is already on board in which the wheelchair is seamlessly mated via 360-degree pivoting wheels, sliding sideways into the infrastructure and locked in place. 

The result is a regular airline seat. upon arrival, 'air access' is simply unlocked and slid out into the aisle and the passenger is wheeled off the plane and transferred to their own / or airport wheelchair, or zimmer frame.

This is how the seat in locked position looks like! (source: Designboom)

The Air Access Chair Promises to Change the Way Airlines Transport Passengers in a Wheelchair
This is how the seat looks when removed for mobility! (Source Designboom)
Called ‘Air Access’, this seat could potentially be installed into all aisle seats on an aircraft. And that would mean that::
  • There would be more seating available for passengers with disabilities, and mobility-impaired passengers would get to sit with their traveling companions in larger groups, particularly on wide-body planes.
  • Using the toilet becomes infinitely easier, because all you’ll need is assistance to unlock the seat and be wheeled up the aisle.
  • The seat pad is removable, so passengers with a spinal cord injury and other conditions can sit on their own specifically designed cushion for maximum comfort during the flight.
  • Because it integrates seamlessly into the plane’s interior, anyone can sit in the seat when it’s not being used by a passenger with a disability.
Air Access is comprised of two elements: a detachable wheelchair into which passengers are assisted at their departure gate so they can be easily transported on and off the aircraft, and a fixed-frame aisle seat already on board. The wheelchair has 360-degree, pivoting wheels so it slides easily into place and locks securely. It looks just like a regular airline seat. At the end of your flight, the wheelchair unlocks from the frame, and you exit the aircraft as effortlessly as you boarded.

See the video of Air Access here. http://vimeo.com/48791724

Friday, November 15, 2013

Fellow passenger's leave aircraft in protest as Captain offloads blind traveller with guide dog

Dear Colleagues,

An interesting article from philadelphia.cbslocal.com &  rawstory.com on an unusual solidarity shown by fellow passengers agaisnt the highhandedness of the Aircraft Captain to offload a blind passengers travelling with a guide dog in USA. In the end, the aircraft did not fly as all the passengers walked out in protest and refused to fly unless the Blind traveller with his seeing dog was taken in. The passengers were then driven to their destination by a bus. Incident is being investigated.

By Travis Gettys
Thursday, November 14, 2013 13:53 EST

Airline passengers rallied around a blind man Wednesday night after he and his guide dog were removed from the plane.

Albert Rizzi and his seeing eye dog tried to board a US Airways express flight from Philadelphia International Airport to Long Island, but passengers said flight attendants would not allow him to bring the animal onto the plane unless it could travel under a seat.

The flight was delayed for about an hour and a half on the tarmac, and the dog became restless, and other passengers said a flight attendant ordered Rizzi and his guide dog off the plane.

“The lady comes back and gets very insistent, and I said, ‘Look, I don’t understand what you want me to do,’” Rizzi said. “’He’s as best as he can, he’s where he needs to be,’ and I hear nobody else moving, and as I’m walking to the front, I’m like, wait a second, why am I the only one getting off?”

The rest of the passengers banded together and said they refused to fly unless the man and his dog were permitted back onto the plane.

“Blind man and his dog just got kicked off @USAirways after we’ve been on the tarmac an hour, bc dog wiggled a bit. Whole plane outraged,” one passenger tweeted from the flight.

Another passenger said the flight attendant gave Rizzi about one minute to calm his dog before removing him.

“He tried to do whatever he could, and she went back to the front of the plane,” the passenger said. “We were taxiing like we were going to take off, and at that point in time, we’re about to take off, and all the sudden the captain gets on the PA and says we have to head back to the terminal … We were all kind of raised our voices and said this is a real problem. So the captain winds up coming out of the cockpit, and he basically asked us all to leave the aircraft.”

US Airways officials say Rizzi was verbally abusive to the flight attendant and that crew safety was a factor in removing the blind man and his dog from the plane.

The other passengers were boarded onto a bus and driven to Long Island, where they arrived about 2:30 a.m. The airline is investigating the incident.

November 14, 2013 9:58 AM

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — An investigation is underway after a blind man says he was thrown off a plane in Philadelphia along with his service dog.

Albert Rizzi and his seeing eye dog were on a US Airways express flight from Philadelphia International Airport to Long Island Wednesday night.

Passengers claim the airline would not allow Rizzi to bring his dog on the plane, unless it could travel under the seat.
After a delay on the tarmac, the dog apparently became agitated, and that is when passengers claim a flight attendant kicked Rizzi and the dog off the plane.

“What I’m concerned about is that there are tremendous number of individuals in the disabled community who might not have the stamina, the strength, the confidence to stand up for their rights and speak out against these types of ridiculous perceived rules,” Rizzi said.

The incident triggered an unusual show of solidarity from other airline passengers. One passenger Tweeted: “blind man and his dog just got kicked off @USAirways after we’ve been on the tarmac an hour, bc dog wiggled a bit. Whole plane outraged.”

For its part, a spokesperson for US Airways released a statement that confirmed that “on flight 4384 from Philadelphia to Islip, Long Island a customer with a seeing eye dog was asked to keep his dog near his feet when the dog was walking up and down the aisle. The protocol for service animals is to keep them at foot of the passenger, or under the seat, as they are considered extensions of the passenger. When a flight attendant asked the passenger to keep the dog where it needed to stay for safety reasons the passenger got verbally abusive. A decision was made to return to the gate to take the passenger and the dog off the plane. At that point, other customers were unhappy about the situation. The crew did not feel comfortable operating the plane so a decision was made to cancel the flight and U S Airways bussed the passengers to Islip NY.”

The spokesperson confirmed that an internal investigation is underway.