New DGCA circular mandates sensitive handling of disabled passengers, apart from operation of free buggies and small trolleys. Changes will come into effect from July 1, says AAI

Come July, Chennai airport will take extra care of disabled persons, senior citizens and pregnant women.

This is thanks to a circular issued by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), New Delhi, which mandates operation of free buggies to transport people from one level to the other, provision of small trolleys beyond security check to carry the hand baggage up to the boarding gate, displaying details of nodal officers to register complaints about airlines.

According to Airports Authority of India (AAI) in Chennai, the circular issued by DGCA on May 26 comes in to effect from July 1, this year.

A senior AAI official said work has begun to implement the various instructions given in the circular. To begin with, two buggies each in the domestic and international terminals will be provided for transporting passengers from the ground level to the mezzanine floor, and vice versa.

Providing small trolleys will only take a couple of months, said the official. The AAI headquarters in New Delhi has to distribute them.

However, another official said the headquarters has advised the airport directors concerned to make arrangements for procuring the trolleys locally. Already, AAI has called for a meeting with airlines on Monday to discuss the DGCA circular, said the official.

When contacted, A. Ranganathan, former pilot and aviation expert, said some of the instructions in the circular are only on paper.

The DGCA has enforcement civil aviation requirements but they have never taken action against any airline or airport operator for non-compliance. They will not be able to take action against AAI as it is an independent organisation and they are not answerable to DGCA, he said. 

DGCA lacks manpower to even conduct safety audits, said Mr. Ranganathan.

D. Sudhakara Reddy of Air Passengers Association of India (APAI) said a similar circular had been issued by DGCA, three years ago.

On several occasions, passengers have complained to APAI that airline operators do not acknowledge the receipt of complaints.

One of the long-pending demands of APAI is the appointment of an ombudsman for the civil aviation authority, but it has been put in cold storage, added Mr. Reddy.

Javed Abidi of Disability Rights Group said, “DGCA has made noise in the past too with these circulars. The problem here is that there is no implementation of these guidelines or accountability to the passengers.”

One of the biggest problems is dealing with airport or airline staff as they are rude or indifferent to passengers. “A section of the staff behaves harshly as they lack the training to handle the differently abled,” said Mr. Abidi.

Recalling a harrowing experience at an airport, Ummul Khair, who has cerebral palsy, said one of her differently-abled friends was made to undress for security check. That is how the differently-abled are treated, she said.

Hopefully, this DGCA circular will change all that.