Saturday, May 28, 2022

Armed with powers under Aircraft (amendment) Act 2020, DGCA levies penality of Rs. 5 lacs on IndiGo Airlines for denying boarding to child with disabilty at Ranchi Airport

Dear colleagues,

Please refer to our earlier post  "On Mothers Day, a Special mother harrassed by an insensitive and arrogant Indigo Manager at Ranchi Airport, India

The ground staff's refusal to allow the child from boarding the aircraft on the ground that he was a safety risk had drawn widespread criticism, prompting the aviation regulator to launch a probe. The Union Minister for Civil Aviation Shri JM Scindia had himself ordered a probe into the incident saying, "There is zero tolerance towards such behaviour. No human being should have to go through this! Investigating the matter by myself, post which appropriate action will be taken."

Subsequently, the regulator DGCA constituted a 3-member team to conduct a fact-finding probe. The findings of the committee prima facie indicated inappropriate handling of passengers by the IndiGo staff thereby resulting in certain non-conformances with the applicable regulations.

The DGCA probe found the IndiGo ground staff “deficient” in their handling of the passenger with disability and lacking in sensitivity and thus ended up exacerbating the situation. 

These findings are based on a fact-finding exercise carried out by a three-member committee constituted by the DGCA which visited the Ranchi airport, met the family members of the special needs child , an eyewitness and met IndiGo officials too.

This had led to DGCA issuing a "showcause notice" to the airline through its authorized representative to explain as to why suitable enforcement action should not be taken against them for the non-conformances (as a requirement of the law), thereby providing an opportunity to the airline for personal hearing as well as for making written submissions till 26th of May 2022.

“A more compassionate handling would have smoothened the nerves, calmed the child and obviated the need for the extreme step resulting in denied boarding to the passengers.” DGCA’s Director General Arun Kumar said in a press statement. 

"Special situations deserve extraordinary responses but the Airline staff failed to rise up to the occasion and in the process committed lapses in adherence to the letter and spirit of the Civil Aviation Requirements (Regulations)," the statement said, adding that the competent authority has decided to impose a penalty of ₹ 5 lakh on the airline.

This is importnat since it is for the very first time for any airline in the country to be fined by the DGCA on this ground since the recent amendments in the Aircraft (amendment) Act 2020 gave the powers to DGCA to levy fines without approaching a civil court for non compliance of Rules issued under the Aircraft Act. 

The DGCA has also said that it will also make amendments to the Civil Aviation Requirement on “Carriage by Air of Persons with Disability or Persons with reduced mobility” to ensure written consultation with the airport doctor on the state of the passenger’s health as well as the opinion of the Pilot-in-Command on allowing such a passenger on board before he or she is denied boarding.

The DGCA also wants airlines to revisit their standard operating procedures and training processes for dealing with people with disabilities.

Related news: The Hindu

Sunday, May 8, 2022

On Mothers Day, a Special mother harrassed by an insensitive and arrogant Indigo Manager at Ranchi Airport, India

Dear Colleages,

The airlines may be talking big, but their employees bring all the efforts back to square one. Indigo has worked hard to gain respect of passengers with disabilities for their accessible facilities and timely departures, but if the below account shared by a sensitive fellow passenger who saw what unfolded at the Ranchi Airport on 07th May 2022, is to be understood in right context, it only indicates that disability sensitivity trainings are not happening correctly and not all is good with Indigo too.

A Facebook post on how the staff of IndiGo airlines barred an adolescent with special needs from boarding a plane along with his parents at the Ranchi airport on Saturday has created an uproar on social media forcing the airline to issue a statement clarifying why its staff did so. The Facebook post originally shared by Manisha Gupta who witnessed the incident has now gone viral. 

"The Indigo staff announced that the child would not be allowed to take the flight. That he was a risk to other passengers. That he would have to become 'normal', before he could be travel-worthy. And the staff then went on to state something on lines of 'behaviours such as this, and that of drunk passengers, deems them unfit to travel," the Facebook post written by Manisha Gupta said.


 


 AN INCIDENT OF DISCRIMINATION AND SHAME AT THE RANCHI AIRPORT 

Yesterday (07th May 2022), at the Ranchi airport, an adolescent with special needs, was in great distress. He had had a very uncomfortable  car ride to the airport. By the time he had gone through security check and reached the gate (almost an hour ahead of boarding), he seemed to be in the throes of hunger, thirst, anxiety and confusion. 

His parents obviously knew how to handle his meltdown - with patience, some cajoling, some stern-ness, many hugs etc. And the other passengers were stopping by to ask if they needed any help or support. 

This caught the attention of the #indigoairlines  staff, who walked upto the trio, and warned them that he would not let them board, if the child did not quieten down and become 'normal'.

By the time the boarding began, the child had been fed. He had had many sips of juice and water. His parents had successfully given him his medicine and he seemed ready...except for some big displays of general teenage assertiveness.

Then we witnessed the full display of brute authority and power. 

The Indigo staff announced that the child would not be allowed to take the flight. That he was a risk to other passengers. That he would have to become 'normal', before he could be travel-worthy. And the staff then went on to state something on lines of 'behaviours such as this, and that of drunk passengers, deems them unfit to travel.'

He was immediately gheraoed by other passengers. They opposed him resolutely. They assured the staff that as co-travellers, they had no objection to the child and his parents boarding the flight. Several went on to the Indigo airline website and challenged the Indigo manager to calibrate his decision with corresponding statements in the rule book. 

There was a delegation of doctors who were taking the same flight. They asked the ground staff to get the airport doctor and let him/her take a call on the fitness of the child to travel. They offered to provide full support to the child and his parents, if any health episode were to occur mid-air. "We are doctors traveling with this child and his family. Now let him board," they said.

Other doctors, teachers, government officials emerged from the widening ring of passengers. They held  up their mobile phones with news articles, Twitter posts on supreme court judgements on how no airline could discriminate against passengers with disabilities.

"This child is in uncontrollable. He is in a state of panic," the Indigo manager kept shouting and telling everyone. But all we could see was a young adolescent, sitting very quietly on a wheel chair, terror-striken by how he was being called out as a risk to the normal world. "The only person who is in panic is you," a woman passenger retorted.

 "I am a government official and I can tell you that it is this child's right to travel. You cannot discriminate against him," a senior passenger said. "This is my decision and you cannot do anything about it," the manager said very sharply.

'Why don't you confer with the captain?' ' Please call your manager'. 'His normal is not the same as your normal'. 'Look, he has travelled many times before on flights. He was a just having a bad day, he is fine now.' ' Yes, please let him travel'...

Threats, pleas, dialogue, negotiations, hands folded in request --- nothing  from the parents and circle of passengers worked in the face of that one person who had made up his mind last evening to fully exercise his power to exclude those who did not belong to his world of 'normal',  and  'fit' people.

Then, at the end of it all, the Indigo flight from Ranchi to Hyderabad departed, leaving behind three courageous Indians at the boarding terminal, who probably fight everyday for love, respect and dignity. The security guard locked and secured the boarding gate with an iron padlet and chains, even as the mother pleaded from the other side of the glass door. The other passengers, including us, slowly dispersed to catch our own flights. 

It was late night. Ours was probably the last flight out. As I stepped into the chute to board, I caught a last glimpse of this family -  a father, mother and child on a wheelchair, standing alone in a large, empty and deserted terminal, ring-fenced by airport staff and security. 

As I write this, all I remember is that in those 45 minutes of argument, temper, rage and contestation, the three had not once lost their dignity or raised their voice or spoken one irrational word. Not for a moment did they come across as unbeaten.

"Do you know what it means to be a parent?," the mother had asked the airline manager. "Do you think as a mother, I would ever let my child harm himself or anyone?"

What unfolded last evening at the Ranchi evening was a snapshot of  us . Us as a 'no country for mothers. Us as a 'co country for children'. No country for mothers who are different, No country for mothers who are raising children who are different.

#indigoairline - you are a disgrace to this country.

#mothersday2022


Another account by a Doctor traveling on the same flight as given to the Quint.


'As a Doctor, I Urged The IndiGo Manager to Let The Special Needs Child Board'

The nicest thing to come out of this sad story was the sensitivity of people.

DR SUMIT RAY

Updated: 10 May 2022, 1:02 PM IST

(Dr Sumit Ray is a senior consultant in critical care medicine. He was waiting at the Ranchi Airport when IndiGo barred a child with disabilities to board a flight to Hyderabad. The following is an as-told-to account, recorded and written by Sakshat Chandok.)

I was waiting at the Ranchi Airport on 7 May when I heard that a special needs child was crying. He was irritable and hungry as he had just come from a long, uncomfortable car ride, and his parents were looking after him.

He also had a cast on his arm, and was probably in some pain and discomfort, which made him restless and added to his woes.

Since he was a child with multiple disabilities, he took some time to calm down. When he finally did, it was time for their flight to start boarding passengers.

At that time, a manager from IndiGo said that since the child was "crying and panicking", he couldn't allow him to board the flight. He has to become "normal", the manager asserted.

Since the child was stopped from boarding, many passengers took it up with the the IndiGo representative. They explained to him that the child has special needs, and that he was restless earlier but had calmed down later. And after the child had stopped crying, he was sitting calmly on the wheelchair for 25-30 minutes.

There was also a team of six to seven doctors who were also boarding the same flight as the child and his parents. They said that if there is any problem on board, they would take care of it. "He's a child on a wheelchair," the doctors told the manager, adding, "He cannot be a threat to anybody.”

IndiGo Manager Was Unempathetic and Particularly Aggressive

The IndiGo manager was arguing with everybody. "You don’t understand. The child is panicking," he said, asserting that people who are under the influence of alcohol or behaving like the child would not be allowed to board.

Everybody got angry with him, but still people were very polite. The passengers on his flight and on other flights came together to explain to him, cajole him, but to no avail. They also urged him to call his senior, to which he said, "I am the senior person."

At that point I questioned him, “Do you even understand what the child’s problem is?” To which he replied that he knew it. So, I asked him what the child suffered from. “That’s not important. He was panicking," the manager retorted.

We asked him whether there was a doctor in the IndiGo team, to which he said that there wasn’t one. Then I suggested to him to call the airport doctor to examine the child.

Some people even asked him to talk to the captain of the flight. He said, “No, I know better.”

I also said that as doctors, we know that the child is not going to be a threat to anybody. But he just refused. He was aggressive and unempathetic.

Lacking in Training

I’m not trying to blame any airline. IndiGo has a fair reputation of taking care of people with special needs. But obviously there is something lacking in their training.

And it’s not just training. The manager was particularly difficult. Even the policemen who were there, who have no authority to allow a person on the flight, were asking the manager to let the child board.

He repeatedly said that the child had to become “normal”, to which we said that normal for him is different compared to what it might be for you. He was totally unwilling to listen or understand. He didn’t even know what disability meant.

He knew that most passengers would have to leave to catch their flights sooner or later, so he delayed the entire process to ensure that the child does not board the scheduled flight.

It is absolutely essential that we sensitise staff, particularly those who are dealing with people with special needs at different sites of interaction.

Sensitisation in different areas has certainly helped to create more awareness. In this particular situation, what the media, disability sector activists and others have done, has made people aware of special needs to a great extent.

IndiGo claims that they are good with people with disabilities, and I’m certainly not countering their claim. But in this situation, there was a failure on the part of the system.

According to me, the airline should have flown the child on the next direct flight. They should have an SOP in such a situation, as per which they should become more aware and receptive. Secondly, if so many people are saying something that is in disagreement with the airline’s representative, he needs to involve his seniors.

Sensitivity of People The Only Good Thing to Come Out Of This Sad Story

The nicest thing to come out of this sad story was the sensitivity of people. There was not a single person apart from the manager who said that the child should not be allowed to board.

Every passenger on the boy’s flight said that they had no problem with the child flying in the same plane. Most people in the airport didn’t know what kind of special needs the child had. But they had the empathy and understanding that he required a special kind of care.

It was just this manager and his ego that did not permit the child to board. “You are stuck now because of your ego,” almost everybody told him, but he didn’t listen.

DGCA constitutes 3 member fact finding committee 

After outrage over an incident of alleged discrimination against a child with disabilities by IndiGo airlines, India's aviation regulatory body, Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), on Monday, 9 May, constituted a 3-member team to conduct a fact-finding probe. The team will visit Ranchi and Hyderabad to conduct the investigation.

"The fact-finding team will visit Ranchi &Hyderabad and collect appropriate evidence within one week from today. Based on the outcome of the said inquiry, further action shall entail," DGCA said in a statement.

This comes hours after Union Minister for Civil Aviation Jyotiraditya Scindia, on Monday, 9 May, said in a tweet, "There is zero tolerance towards such behaviour. No human being should have to go through this! Investigating the matter by myself, post which appropriate action will be taken."

NCPCR Takes Cognisance of the Incident

Meanwhile, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) chairperson Priyank Kanoongo said in a tweet, “An incident of misbehaviour with a specially-abled child by staff of IndiGo at Ranchi airport has come out. Cognisance is being taken for appropriate action.”

Source: The Quint


Indigo boy, my child — Travelling with autism (Indian Expresss)

Shubhra Gupta writes: How long will it take for us to realise it is not just about him, that we all need the wind beneath our wings?




Monday, November 1, 2021

Air4All, new aeroplane seating system by PriestmanGoode holds hope for air travellers with reduced mobility to stay in their wheelchairs during entire travel.

Dear Colleagues,

This is so great to hear that PriestmanGoode has designed a aeroplane seating that allows air travellers to stay in their electric/ powered wheelchairs and travel with dignity. 

Unveiled as 'Air 4 All-, an aeroplane seating system that will allow powered wheelchair users to remain in their own wheelchairs for the entire journey. Developed by PriestmanGoode in a consortium with campaign group Flying Disabled and aircraft safety company SWS Certification, the concept is designed for commercial flights and is currently being developed into a prototype.

The concept design looks like a standard airline seat, but the bottom flips up when required to make room for a wheelchair, with a guide track to help position the chair and an attachment system that securely fixes it in place. The best thing is, the seats function as regular airline seats, if there is no wheelchair that require access. 

Picture of the Air4All system that allows PRM to travel in their certified power wheelchairs during the entire journey.

Picture: PriestmanGoode says Air 4 All will allow airlines to give powered wheelchair users equal access to safe, comfortable and dignified air travel, while letting the companies retain their seat count.

"The biggest barrier in the past has been that giving greater space to passengers in wheelchairs would have reduced seat count and resulted in a loss of revenue for airlines," said PriestmanGoode chairman Paul Priestman.

"Air 4 All solves this problem and has the added benefit of enabling airlines to retain the design of their cabin on every seat, ensuring brand consistency and a cohesive brand experience for all passengers," he continued.

"Air 4 All will facilitate a smoother boarding and disembarking experience for PRMs [passengers with reduced mobility] and will also significantly reduce the number of wheelchairs that are damaged through poor handling."

PriestmanGoode's vision is for Air 4 All to work similarly to the Isofix/LATCH standards for child safety seats in passenger cars, with various wheelchair models becoming certified for flying. Both the airline seats and wheelchairs will need to be fitted with the consortium's patented installation and attachment system for Air 4 All to work.

Another partner on the project, wheelchair manufacturer Sunrise Medical, will undertake the task of creating powered wheelchairs that are fit to fly, as well as retrofitting old models. Eventually, the system will be opened up to all airlines and wheelchair manufacturers.

"In the same way that child seats for cars can be made by many different manufacturers and used on any type of car, our aim for Air 4 All is that it's universal," Priestman told Dezeen. "At PriestmanGoode we design many trains, trams and buses and for all these modes of transport there are strict requirements to provide positions to allow people to travel on board whilst seated in a wheelchair."

"It is wrong that currently onboard aircraft there is no such provision," Priestman continued. "I believe the Air 4 All system has provided a solution that will at last correct this and allow wheelchair users to travel as they should like everybody else."

The prototype of Air 4 All is expected to be ready in December 2021. The initial design is for a narrow-body aircraft with two rows of two seats. It converts the front-row seats and creates a capacity for up to two wheelchairs per row.

PriestmanGoode says it is working with a subsidiary of a major airline to bring the product to market, and the long-term vision is to extend the system to other modes of travel such as rail and metro.

Flying Disabled founder Chris Wood has been campaigning for accessibility in aviation since 2015 and said the consortium was "actively working with all the necessary parties" to ensure its solution was harmonised and fit for purpose.

"Air 4 All is the first system that has been developed jointly by a design agency, a certification body and with input from the disabled community," he said. "With a leading global wheelchair manufacturer as well as the subsidiary of a major airline on board to develop the product, it's a truly collaborative project."

PriestmanGoode is an industrial design studio specialising in transport design. Among its other recent concept designs is an autonomous taxi modelled on London's Brutalist architecture and a pandemic-proof aircraft passenger cabin with dirt trap-free surfaces.

Our take:- For this project to be a success and its quick adoption by the stakeholders particularly the airlines and the users-groups, the consortium has to ensure that the cost of certified model of the powered wheelchair remains affordable so that maximum users can adopt this and airlines find it a win win situation. 

The success of this project is therefore hidden in maximum flyers with reduced mobility adopting the certified wheelchairs, else the airlines will end up continuing the present system in light of legal requirements. The Governments could also come forward to support travellers with disabilities/ PRMs with subsidies. In addition, the airlines could also think of partnering with frequent fliers and support them with this technology since adoption of this would definitely bring gains to all the parties.

The other issue is, whether onboard accessible toilets can accommodate the current wheelchair on the toilet seat. Without this facility, it would be difficult to claim full accessibility and dignity to the flyers with reduced mobility and this definitely can't work for long haul flights.



Wednesday, April 7, 2021

A woman Kolkata Professor and a wheelchair user raises a disability discrimination complaint against Air India

Dear colleagues, 

Ms. Priyanka De, an assistant professor who teaches philosophy at Presidency University and who also happens to be a wheelchair user due to cerebral palsy, has alleged harassment before and during travel on the national carrier 'Air India' recently. 


Air India, while regretting the inconvenience she had faced, refused to alter its position on the issues. Ms. De, flew from Kolkata to Delhi by Air India on February 17 and returned by the same airline on February 25. Prior to travel, she had a trying time availing of a concession that the airline offers to persons with locomotor disability. Discounts under various categories, including students and the ones in Armed services, can be availed while purchasing tickets online. But Ms. De, who is a wheelchair user and a person with benchmark disability was unable to avail of the discount online. It was only when she escalated the issue with the Prime Minister’s Office that the airline reached out to her and took the necessary documents over mail to approve the 50% discount on basic fare. 


The issue underlines the ordeal faced by passengers with disabilities when they are forced to personally visit the airlines office to book a concessional ticket while other categories of passengers to whom concessional tickets are allowed, can do so online. This is a systemic issue and even Indian Railways practiced this until the High Court of Delhi came out heavily on them to allow seamless system to avail online concessional ticket booking as available to other concessional categories. 


She narrated, “On my return, I wrote to the airline, asking it to ensure that others with similar disability get the discount while purchasing tickets online at a time when Covid is on the rise. But in its reply, the airline has expressed its inability to do so without physically verifying the extent of disability at the airline’s city or airport counter. Why can’t a passenger upload the disability certificate at the time of purchasing the ticket and show it at the time of travel.”


Airline has no reason to ask flyers with disabilities to  physically verify the extent of disability at their counter - in the city or at the airport. This is a salt on the wound and an outright discrimination on the grounds of disability as prohibited by section 3 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016. There is no written word in the law or in DGCA CAR or any other advisory to support this discriminatory practice.


Ms. Priyanka De also faced another challenge during the return journey. She was not allowed to carry her fold-able wheelchair in the cabin, despite the airline website clearly stating that collapsible wheelchair and pair of crutches or braces for passenger use, if dependent on these, are allowed in the cabin.


“I have a narrow wheelchair that is collapsible to enable movement in flight and other confined spaces. It is helpful for use in the washroom. But on the afternoon of February 25, the flight crew refused to allow the wheelchair and wanted to stow it away in the belly cargo hold. When I pointed out that I could not use the washroom without it, the crew asked me to go to the toilet after the flight landed. It was inhuman,” she expressed in a Times of India article


The airline pointed out that the space constraint in the narrow body aircraft had prompted the crew to stow it in the cabin bulk head after taking permission from the flight commander. “Efforts were made to put the chair in the overhead cabin but since it could not fit there, it was shifted to the alternative storage space,” said an airline official.


It is pertinent to mention that the DGCA's Civil Aviation Requirement on Carriage by Air of Persons with Disabilities provides as below :-


"4.1.1    No airline shall refuse to carry persons with disability or reduced mobility and their assistive aids/devices, escorts and guide dogs including their presence in the cabin, provided such persons or their representatives, at the time of booking, inform the airline of their requirement(s). The airlines shall incorporate appropriate provisions on their website within three months from the date of issue of this CAR, so that while making bookings, passengers with disability have the option to select the required facilities, which he/she will require during the journey."


Limitations of the aircraft, if any should be informed to the passengers so that they can make an informed choice. The National carrier is expected to be a role model, however, it seems there is lack of awareness and sensitisation among the staff on the subject. The DGCA CAR also provides for training of the staff in section 4.3. Specific sections are as below: 


"4.3.3  The operators shall ensure that all its employees are imparted disability-related basic training and refresher training at appropriate interval. 

Note: Disability related training provides practical overview and is relevant in particular to those providing assistance to persons with disability or reduced mobility. It increases understanding of the whole range of impairments so that personnel are aware of how to interact with persons with disability or reduced mobility and to tackle negative perceptions and attitudes towards such passengers.


4.3.4   In addition to basic training, operators should provide specific training for personnel who may be required to provide direct assistance to persons with disability and/or persons with reduced mobility


4.3.5  Operators shall ensure that adequate training is provided to all its service providers, ground handling agencies and sub-contractors responsible for providing assistance services


4.3.6  It shall be the responsibility of airport operator to ensure that security staff positioned at airport undergoes disability-related training


4.3.7  Airlines shall ensure that cabin crew safety and emergency procedures training is combined with disability awareness training for assisting persons with disability or reduced mobility in the cabin environment."


Way forward


The airline needs to reinforce training and sensitisation of its officials on a regular basis in compliance of DGCA CAR referred above so that such issues do not crop up. Airline should also provide advance information to customers about the size and limitation of the aircraft especially in cases of narrow body aircraft being deployed on domestic sectors to allow the users to take an informed decision about their travel.  The airline should immediately stop the practice of insisting physical verification of disability for booking concessional tickets. Persons with disabilities are to be provided same online facility of booking of tickets as available to other categories of travelers. For this purpose, airline could insist on adding the reference number of the identification document. In this era of technological advancement, it is easier to cross link identity documents so that the users are not harassed or discriminated on the basis of disability. Govt. of India has undertaken numerous efforts to ease the life of persons with disabilities and promote their inclusion in all walks of lives, let these incidents not mar the spirit of sabka saath, sabka vikas and sabka vishwas!




x

x

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Air India's subsidiary Alliance Air plane denies a person with disabilities boarding with motorized wheelchair

Name of Discriminating Airlines:  Alliance Air plane (Air India)
Flight No. : Air India (AI 9623). Flight time: 03.35 PM (Mumbai to Diu)
Date of Incident: 15 Feb 2021,
Airport: Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport, Mumbai, India
Persons Travelling: Siddharth Mhatre (with wheelchair) and Kevin Karani


Brief: A passenger travelling with motorized wheelchair, despite booking his seat a month in advance and having provided all the information related to travel and disability, was denied boarding him with his battery wheelchair saying it was more than the prescribed 15 kg check in baggage limit by 45 kg. The argument of the airline that the ATR aircraft is small in size unlike the bigger jets with a capacity of only 70 seats thereby limiting their weight carrying capacity doesn't hold any water, especially when they were ready to accept the same wheelchair at a huge cost @INR 630 per kg. 

The case highlights following concerns:

a) Non-implementation of DGCA's CAR on Carriage by Air of Persons with Disabilities.

b) Inadequate information provided by the airline about the aircraft and its size of cargo hold and maximum sizes that it can take so that the passenger could take an informed decision.

c) Complete non-cooperation from the airlines and creating uncertainties in the air travel schedule of the passenger with disabilities.

d) Complete lack of timely grievance redressal mechanism and compensation policy.

e) The airline's argument that motorized equipment such as Ambulift cannot be used because of safety limitations on ATR aircraft, is against the stated policy of DGCA on accessible boarding in the aircrafts, whether through the boarding gates, on the tarmac through ambulift or towable ramps. 


Series of events on 15 Feb 21, as shared by the passenger:

01.40 PM: Passengers reached Terminal-2 of CSI Airport, Mumbai.

Picture of passenger with disability, Mr. Siddharth Mhatre

Siddharth was travelling on his own motorised wheelchair and upon reaching the airport, decided to obtain Airport’s wheelchair and let the motorised wheelchair get pass through the security scanner first.

Airport’s wheelchair was not available at Airport Gate so they searched for Air India’s “Help Desk” to obtain Airport’s wheelchair. Unable to find any “Help Desk” they go to Air India’s ticketing counter to get help. AI’s ticketing staff somehow managed to connect with AI’s ground staff inside the airport and got Airport’s wheelchair to escort Siddharth Mhatre.

02.00 PM:  Both passengers reach check-in counter to get the Boarding Pass and check-in their luggage and wait in the queue for their turn.

02.10 PM: After observing Siddharth Mhatre’s condition AI’s staff at check-in counter denies to issue him boarding pass. One of the AI’s staff even asks Siddharth to show them if he can stand-up on his crutches and walk.

02.15 PM: Unable to stand-up immediately, AI’s ground staff takes a negative stance and completely deny to get Siddharth on board.

We immediately question why Siddharth can’t be boarded. Our travel agent had specifically mentioned at the time of booking the ticket about Siddharth’s disability, his wheelchair requirement and assistance of AI’s staff to get him on board. 

The ticket was booked well in advance (1 month prior on 07-Jan-2021). The Travel agent had also confirmed with AI’s customer care about Siddharth’s disability and requirement for co-operation and assistance for flight boarding.

Siddharth had even sent an email on 11-Feb-2021 to AI’s customer care (contactus@airindia.in) seeking co-operation for boarding the flight and permit him to carry his Motorized wheelchair. It was acknowledged by Air India’s customer care team on the same day.

So we get on call with Travel Agent who booked our ticket and ask him find a solution as AI’s ground staff was clearly denying to get Siddharth aboard. Co-passenger Mr. Kevin and the Travel agent speak with AI’s ground staff for solution.

02.25 PM: AI’s ground staff somehow agree to get Siddharth on-board but seek a “Declaration Letter” from Siddharth that if anything happens to him while boarding the flight, Air India is not responsible for the same and they shall also immediately off-load him from the Airplane. We submit the “Declaration Letter” with Siddharth’s signature on it.

02.30 PM: We again proceed for check-in and boarding pass issuance. AI’s ground staff now comes up with new problem and denies Siddharth to travel on his Motorized wheelchair (which was clearly mentioned from start, even in the email sent to AI’s customer care). We were asked to put his motorized wheelchair in check-in luggage. The weight of Siddhartha’s motorized wheelchair exceeded the weight limit given to each passenger for their luggage. It exceeded the limit by 45kgs.

AI’s ground staff demanded Rs.630 per kg extra to get his motorized wheelchair on board. The calculation came to Rs.630 x 45kgs =  Rs.28,350/-. This was too much amount demanded.

Siddharth’s  motorized wheelchair was his extension to have mobility and not his separate luggage, we denied to pay the amount and asked for solution. AI denied to take any responsibility.

02.50 PM: It was already too late because of all the non-cooperation from AI’s ground staff. They wasted a lot of time, first they completely denied to on-board Siddharth and then they denied to on-board his wheelchair. The gates to board the flight were about to close. They also gave Kevin Karani warning to run and reach the boarding gate or else he’ll be also be off-loaded from flight.

03.00 PM: It was all panic situation created by AI’s staff for Siddharth and Kevin. Kevin had to literally run to the boarding gate to get into the flight and unfortunately Siddharth had to miss his flight.

Siddharth had to then travel by road for non-stop 15 hours to reach the destination as it was an important event which he was not supposed to miss.

Despite a confirmed ticket, having shared the accommodation requirements one month in advance and constantly being in touch with the Air India and having shared the details of the wheelchair etc. no one from the Air India bothered to inform the passenger about the size limitations of the aircraft. It was a violation of the commitment that the airlines made to the customer. There was complete lack of  co-operation from Air India at the time of boarding the flight. The passenger was left stranded at the Mumbai CSI Airport as his accompanying friend was taken in the flight. The passenger had to suffer all the inconvenience and difficulties to reach his destination. The physical strain and mental trauma that the passenger was subjected to due to the uncertainties created by the airlines service can't be explained.

After all the hullabaloo in the media, the airline did refund  his ticket fare, but has not either accepted its fault nor seem to have rectified the system to inform and passengers about the size of the aircraft, size of the cargo hold, weight and size of the electric wheelchairs that it can accommodate, reasonable accommodation provided to the passengers with disabilities, grievance mechanisms procedure etc. The  uncertainties of being able to travel put the passengers with disabilities at a psychological disadvantage, remain in fear, accept what is offered to them and make compromises - even sign all kinds of indemnity  forms etc that are forced on them against the norms, DGCA's CAR etc. Asok Kumar Committee addressed these issues in its detailed consensus report that still remains to be implemented in true letter and spirit by the stakeholders such as airlines, aerodrome operators and the Civil Aviation Security systems.

Below is the report published by media 5 days after the incident.   


Differently-abled allegedly denied boarding with motorised wheelchair in Air India's subsidiary Alliance Air plane  (News source: Mumbai Mirror )

Feb 21, 2021

Due to eleventh hour fiasco, Siddharth Mhatre was forced to travel by road for 18 hours

In an alleged incident of discrimination, a 32-year-old differently-abled person was denied boarding the national career Air India's subsidiary Alliance Air, along with his motorized wheelchair at the last moment.

The incident took place on February 15, 2021 when he arrived at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport to travel to Diu to attend a wedding ceremony of his close friend scheduled for the next day.

Siddharth Mhatre, who works in facility management and is a resident of Dadar, says that the incident not only caused him mental and physical trauma but forced him to make an overnight journey by road.

"The negligence on part of the airlines took place even when tickets were booked a month ago and the travel agent had informed them about his physical condition, wheelchair requirement, and assistance for flight boarding in advance not once, but multiple times," alleges Mhatre.

Upon reaching the airport along with  is friend with whom he was travelling, Mhatre had let his motorised wheelchair get past the security scanner first, but little did he know what would follow soon after.

"I approached the ticketing counter to get airport’s wheelchair after we failed to find Air India's 'Help Desk'. The ticketing staff managed to connect him with the airline's ground staff inside the airport and got the airport’s wheelchair. However, when we reached the check-in counter to get the boarding pass and check-in our luggage, the airline staff at the check-in counter denied him a boarding pass," says Mhatre.

The passenger also alleged that one of the staff members even asked him to show them if he could 'stand-up' on his crutches and walk.

Mhatre's friend Kevin Karani, who was traveling with him also questioned the staff as to why Mhatre couldn't board the flight when the travel agent had specifically mentioned at the time of booking the ticket about his disability and requirement. He also made the travel agent speak with the airlines' ground staff to find a solution.

Later, the ground staff somehow agreed to get Mhatre on-board but not before seeking a 'declaration letter' which they got him to sign.

Mhatre says that the declaration letter stated that if anything were to happen to him while boarding the flight, the airline would not be held responsible for the same and they would also immediately off-load him.

However, the problem was far from over when they again proceeded for check-in and boarding pass issuance. The staff denied him permission to travel on his motorized wheelchair and asked to put it with his check-in luggage and demanded charges.

"The airline ground staff demanded Rs 630 per kg extra (Rs 28,350) to get his motorized wheelchair (45kg) on board. We decided we would not pay the amount and asked for a solution, however, the airline staff denied taking any responsibility."

In this process, Mhatre's friend who was accompanying him was asked to run and reach the boarding gate and was threatened to be off-loaded from the flight if he did not make it in time.

Speaking to Mirror Online, Mhatre's father Dr Sanjay demanded action against the discriminatory behavior due to which his son had to undergo severe mental trauma and added that his son is 80 per cent physically challenged and the motorized wheelchair was his extension to have mobility and not a separate piece of luggage.

Following the whole fiasco, Siddharth had to then travel by road for 18 hours to reach the destination to attend an important event which he did not want to miss.

In response to Mirror Online questions, the airline said that ATR aircraft boarding steps are part of the fuselage with a capacity of a single person boarding at a time. In this type of aircraft Motorized equipment such as Ambulift cannot be used because of safety limitations and only one person boards at a time in the aircraft as a safety limitation.

"On humanitarian grounds after requests from passenger and his aide we agreed to accept the passenger. The aide also offered to help the passenger to board the aircraft. As per policy, we do offer a free weight allowance of 15 kgs for a wheelchair which is over and above the free check-in & cabin baggage. However, since the overall weight of the baggage and wheelchair was beyond the free permitted allowance, hence excess baggage amount was requested from the passenger which he did not agree to pay."

The airline further added that the ATR aircraft is small in size unlike the bigger jets with a capacity of only 70 seats thereby limiting our weight carrying capacity.

"Declaration letter was taken in the best interest of the passenger and safety precautions. We believe that everyone deserves smooth, uncomplicated service and this sorry situation led to the passengers' alteration of travel plans. We convey our deepest regret for any inconvenience caused and our endeavor is always to work towards becoming the most needs-friendly airline as we have displayed in the past and will continue in the future."


---

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Passenger Complaints about disability discrimination during flying are on rise in USA


WASHINGTON, D.C. — Airline passengers with disabilities say flight staff need more training and the airplanes need better accommodations to meet their needs, according to testimony during a House subcommittee hearing Tuesday.

Their concerns were part of a discussion about passenger experiences with airlines.

Testimony was presented from a recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office that said the number of passenger disability complaints reported to the U.S. Department of Transportation and to airlines directly has steadily increased since 2011.

Most were about staff being unable to properly assist the passengers, seating problems and issues with service animals.

Lee Page with Paralyzed Veterans of America testified about his experience.

"On my most recent flight, I had a problem with the aisle chair and the people who came to assist me,” Page said. "The personnel tried to lift me up over the fixed armrest and into my seat, but they were not strong enough and ended up dropping me on the armrest as I slid into my seat."

The number of overall passenger complaints to the DOT across all categories is also up about 10 percent from 2008 to 2017.

An aviation consultant for the nonprofit group Consumer Reports testified about the need for a passenger bill of rights.

"With guaranteed accommodations during flight delays and cancellations, transparencies of fares and fees and safe healthy aircraft seating,” William McGee said.

Testimony did point out that the overall quality of airline operational performance has improved over the last decade.

The report said the rate of denied boardings, mishandled baggage and flight delays have generally improved from 2008 to 2017.

Witnesses also pointed to new technology as reasons why the experience for passengers has improved.

“Enhanced service training for our crews and other guest-facing personnel as well as investments in technology like enhanced airport kiosks and our new self-bag drop machines that will help speed our guests through the check-in process,” Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer for Spirit Airlines Matt Klein said.



Friday, January 17, 2020

This Award-winning design by a student offers a new take on accessible aircraft cabins

Dear Colleagues,

This award-winning adaptable wheelchair design by an Irish designer Ms. Ciara Crawford offers a new take on accessible aircraft cabins, and aims to encourage airlines to make it easier for passengers with reduced mobility to fly with dignity and without the need to be manually lifted or transferred to the aircraft seat.

Image of electric wheelchairs that can be fitted to the existing seats, hence not requiring the wheelchair users to be lifted on to the seat.The so-called Row 1 airport wheelchair system would allow passengers to use the same electrified wheelchair to get from the airport check-in desk to the aircraft to their destination, eliminating the need for multiple seat transfers.

This innovative chair can be altered quickly on the aircraft by removing the larger wheels at the back. It is then fitted directly onto the passenger seat. Smaller cast wheels in the bottom frame allow the chair to be eased into position and used for mobility in-flight.

The design was Crawford’s final year project in college, and was inspired by both her work in the aviation sector and the experience of a family member.

“I was working as a concept developer for an aircraft parts manufacturer, and attended AIX [Aircraft Interiors Expo], and noticed the lack of focus on accessibility in the aircraft industry,” Crawford tells Runway Girl Network. “I have a cousin who is in a wheelchair and doesn’t travel for that reason, so I started looking into it. I knew I couldn’t change what was already there but needed to work with what is already on an aircraft – something that could be added to the aircraft very easily.”

Mindful of the practical requirements, and after reviewing a few models of existing aircraft seats, Crawford set about to design something that would fit onto the front row of most economy class cabins on long-haul aircraft. Crawford believes it would be managed like other aircraft, telling RGN: “It would be going to the airline [as their equipment] and it will be a service they would offer. It would have to be brought back by the airline. They would monitor how many they need and ensure that it’s going where it needs to go.”

To give limited mobility passengers greater control Crawford envisions the chair as being electrically powered, using batteries which are cleared for airline transport in the aircraft cabin. With this feature, limited-mobility passengers would be free to arrive to the gate unattended. A handheld control in one of the armrests would allow passengers to drive their chairs.


Once on board the aircraft, the passenger would need assistance with removing the back wheels. But the caster system on the back of the chair would make it easier for an assistant – either a travel companion or airline staff – to fit the wheelchair onto the seat.

The design earned Crawford recognition as the “2019 Emerging Product Designer of the Year” from the European Product Design Awards; it earned the 2019 Platinum Prize in Transportation, Aircraft/Aerospace.

Paul Priestman, co-founder of London design firm PriestmanGoode, which developed the Air Access integrated wheelchair aircraft seat concept for the 2012 Paralympic games and has been an active advocate for accessibility in air travel for years, tells RGN that he’s gratified to see more designers focus on solving the issues of accessibility.

“What I find encouraging is that a lot of people are coming to the same conclusion as us, that this is a possibility,” he says. While Priestman characterizes the delays in adopting workable solutions as frustrating, he feels generally optimistic. “Things are beginning to change because a lot of people are realizing that this is becoming a rights issue.”

As Priestman points out, other forms of mass transport have become accessible through regulation and airlines face the possibility that regulations will ultimately compel airlines to act. “It will only take one country,” he says, and others will join in drafting laws. “It’s only a matter of time.”

“I think one of the big issues is that the majority of people aren’t aware of the issues because people using the wheelchair are boarded before and deplane after,” he  says. “One of the ways of tackling this is to remind people that everyone at some point will need to have assistance.”

For Crawford, the recognition her design has received has opened up new opportunities to meet people in the airline industry who are equally committed to raising awareness and ensuring progress. “It has been massive,” she says. “I’ve heard from potential users, aircraft manufacturers…the interest has been great.”

Image Credits: To the Student Ms. Ciara Crawford who won the design competition.Article Source: Runwaygirlnetwork.com   Authored by: Marisa Garcia

x