Elderly and disabled passengers complain airline staff demand money for help with wheelchairs

Nearly a month ago, 33-year-old Smitha Sadasivan, a multiple sclerosis patient, sought wheelchair assistance at Chennai airport, before flying to Delhi.

As was the practice, the airline staff demanded money from her for manoeuvring her wheelchair though it ought to be a free service.

“I simply refused to pay him. They ask us for money very often. Earlier, I used to sympathise with them and agreed to pay whatever they demanded; later, a policeman told me it was a free service and that we must not pay for it,” she said.

But airline staff continued to demand money for such essential services, according to the elderly and disabled air passengers at Chennai airport.

When Kanthimathi Santhanam, 73, travelled to the US three years ago, she too was forced to pay Rs. 300 for help with her wheelchair. “Some of my friends here tell me the trend has still not changed,” she said.

Mridangam exponent Erode Nagaraj said this happened because of some passengers who sympathised with the staff and paid them, as a result of which, they had come to expect it from every passenger in need.

“These boys demand as much as Rs. 500 or even more, sometimes. Invariably, international or transit passengers seem to be the target since they spend more time than domestic travellers at the terminal,” said an official of Airports Authority of India (AAI).

However, an airline official said their staff was under constant vigilance as there were CCTV cameras installed at all places in the airport.

“The practice was quite common in the old terminal but now I don’t think the boys collect money from passengers. There may be some exceptions but we are keeping a watch,” he said.

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