Opinion » Comment

Updated: February 27, 2012 12:38 IST

‘If I am not fit to fly, he is not fit to be a pilot'

Jeeja Ghosh
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IGNORANT AND INSENSITIVE: There is an urgent need to educate people about the rights of the disabled. Photo: Nissar Ahmed
The Hindu IGNORANT AND INSENSITIVE: There is an urgent need to educate people about the rights of the disabled. Photo: Nissar Ahmed

Travelling by air is often not a very pleasant experience for a person with disability. Incidents of harassment are quite common when a passenger with disability travels by air on her own or his own. I narrate one such harrowing incident.


I was scheduled to travel to Goa to attend a conference organised by ADPAT of Mumbai, a non-governmental organisation. I was travelling by SpiceJet flight SG 308 from the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Airport, Kolkata. I reached the airport at 7.05 a.m. on February 19, 2012. I checked in as usual and was escorted to the flight by an assistant and was comfortably seated. After a while I sensed a commotion around me and had the intuition that something was not quite right. One of the flight assistants asked for my boarding pass. Then I was asked to leave my seat and go with them. I was made to de-board, put in a car and bought back to the airport terminal.

By this time, I was hysterical. I was not given any specific reason why I was made to de-board. I was then taken to the airline's office, and through the course of my argument with them I got to know that it was the captain of the aircraft, Utprabh Tiwari, who had a problem because I was a person with disability. The assistant manager and the other personnel appeared empathetic, but they said they were helpless as their attempt to convince the captain had failed. I demanded that they allow me to either board another flight or return the money. Assistant Manager Vishnu Ramesan said I could take the flight the next day — February 20. I asked him how he could give me an assurance that the incident would not be repeated. He said he had spoken to the higher authorities and action would be taken. I asked him for a written statement giving the reason for de-boarding me — which they refused to give, for obvious reasons. However, they accepted a written complaint from me. They dropped me home and gave me an assurance to pick me up the next morning to go to the airport.

But I was unable to fly the next day because I was absolutely shattered and traumatised by the previous day's incidents and had to consult a physician.

DGCA rules

The point that clearly comes out here is the total lack of awareness on the part of the airline staff of the relevant rules. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has issued detailed Civil Aviation Requirements. Under Section 4.1 of the document on Carriage by Air of Persons with Disability and/ or Persons with Reduced Mobility (issued in May 2008), no airline has the authority to refuse a passenger with disability or reduced mobility from travelling by air along with the aid and appliances they require.

Under Section 5.1, no medical clearance or special forms shall be insisted upon from persons with disabilities or persons with reduced mobility who only require special assistance at the airport for assistance in embarking/ disembarking and a reasonable accommodation in flight, who otherwise do not require any additional assistance.

No medical clearance or special forms shall be insisted upon from persons with disabilities or persons with reduced mobility who only require special assistance at the airport for assistance in embarking/ disembarking and a reasonable accommodation in flight, who otherwise do not require any additional assistance.

Under 5.2, medical clearance may be required only when the airline has received information that the passenger:

a) suffers from any disease, which is believed to be actively contagious and communicable; b) who, because of certain diseases, or incapacitation may have or develop an adverse physical condition which could have an adverse effect during flight and on safety and emergency evacuation procedures; c) would require medical attention and/ or special equipment to maintain their health during the flights; d) there exists a possibility of medical condition aggravated during or because of the flight;

I am a person with cerebral palsy — which is not a disease but a condition caused by damage to the brain.

This is yet another incident that shows lack of awareness and a humane touch even among the so-called elite and educated people of society. A pilot or the captain of the flight holds a responsible position. This kind of behaviour from him is shameful.

I urge the government, including the Ministries of Social Justice and Empowerment and Civil Aviation, to take up this issue as a serious matter. There is an urgent need to provide training to airline personnel at all levels. Such training should be conducted by people with disabilities.

I request the Ministry of Civil Aviation to take serious action against SpiceJet, especially Captain Utprabh Tiwari. Any person with his mentality and attitude has no right to hold such a responsible position. If I am not fit to fly, he is not fit to be a pilot.

(This is an adapted version of a letter sent by Jeeja Ghosh to the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, on February 21, 2012. She is Head of Advocacy and Disability Studies at the Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy in Kolkata.)

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I would say that before jumping to conclusions and blaming anyone, the entire story should be heard from both parties. I agree what happened with the passenger what incorrect, but at the same time the pilot was not a fool to have handpicked a disabled person and asked him to deplane without any reason! There are certain set of procedures, legal and binding, to be followed before each flight's departure. The refusal of the pilot might not have been to the passenger, but to his own staff for not being able to provide him with valid docx. If the passenger was suffering from cerebral palsy, how would the pilot know without a 'FIT TO FLY CERT.' that a person with cerebral palsy is safe to fly? He might have just asked for a 'FIT TO FLY' certificate to make sure that the passenger is safe to travel by air. Afterall, his job is to be a pilot and not a doctor. FLight by air is under low pressure and can cause aggravation of a lot of problems. Hence,to ask for a FIT TO FLY was not incorrect

from:  Shahid
Posted on: Mar 29, 2012 at 03:59 IST

The incident of a differently-abled woman being offloaded from its Kolkata-Mumbai
flight may have been "inadvertent" and due to lack of information. The pilot may
have acted as per safety procedure being followed. However sensitisation of all
airline employees on the needs of these passengers (suffering from Cerebral Palsy)
for better care is the need of the hour!!!

from:  Shona
Posted on: Feb 28, 2012 at 15:05 IST

I think many of the comments made by other people seem too callous, most of the
people are only seeing one side of the story and commenting without knowing the
rules.I have been a pilot for more than 8 years now and i think what the pilot did was
the best option in his situation! Way to go pilot! He should look out for the interest
of the other passenger and just not one after all majority wins!

from:  Amy
Posted on: Feb 28, 2012 at 14:50 IST

How does this pilot still holding on to his job? Why is there no outrage from the public to stop Spice Jet from firing him? Where are the trade union members and the moral police?

Posted on: Feb 28, 2012 at 14:32 IST

If a case is filed it will take ten thousand years to come to court and
for justice to be found, the same court that is fast in acting on
contempt of court cases drag their feet are so slow in taking action in
such cases. I wonder whether the judiciary is the enemy of the people of
this nation. If not the judiciary has to take action against these
people and defend the people against such people.

from:  Antony
Posted on: Feb 28, 2012 at 11:55 IST

The incident that took place is really unfortunate. But its also unfortunate that the pilot is being blamed for the entire fiasco. Like Mr Rajesh Subramanian says "Lets not lynch the pilot yet". Had the situation been the reverse where Ms. Jeeja Ghosh was on board and a crisis in the air did occur( Anything from a seizure to a de pressurisation in air) the same pilot would have been pulled up for allowing a CP passenger on board without a medical certificate. So either way he is damned.>

from:  Ally M
Posted on: Feb 28, 2012 at 09:19 IST

India has advanced humanitarian laws but the worst attitude and awarness in everything. The Captain and the airline should be made accountable.

from:  Dr. R. Nair
Posted on: Feb 28, 2012 at 01:12 IST

Folks...I agree with Mr. Saravanan. We are not powerless and let us not just complain about the system or pontificate. Let us act with our purses - as people in the west (especially US) would.
Let us boycott Spice Jet till their CEO issues a public apology and Ghosh is duly compensated.

from:  Swami Nathan
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 22:45 IST

This is atrocious and I am terribly disgusted with Spicejet. Myself and all my family/staff will boycott Spicejet in all our future travels. We cannot encourage such pathetic and inhuman behaviour and this is totally unacceptable.

from:  Sesha Reddy
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 21:30 IST

its a real shame that an educated person would behave with minimal
intellect. Definitely steps should be take to curb such inhuman
action, but on the first place the question arises why should it at all
take place, in a democratic country? Where did it start from?

from:  deepanwita de
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 20:54 IST

The pilot must be fired. Since he is piloting an aircraft it is assumed that he has decent level of education. If he can't seem to know the rules of DGCA or just be supportive (I will NOT use word sympathy) to people with special needs, then he does not deserve to be flying an aircraft and be responsible for lives of all those he is carrying.

from:  Hemanth
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 20:12 IST

It is very disappointing that even after so much awareness carried by
Government and NGOs,such cases of harassment still occur.Differently-
able people are like small children and they require sympathy,love and
encouragement to participate in society in meaningful way.Any harassment
and torture needs to condemned and punished without delay.

from:  Dr.Prashant Meshram Nanded
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 20:05 IST

How the pilot utprabh tiwari behaved is utter shameful. Imagine if he
would have behaved the same way whether his mother or sister was in that

from:  Naveen
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 20:02 IST

SpiceJet is the worst airline. There is a basic lack of respect in their staff when they deal with passengers.

from:  abhi
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 19:18 IST

In this regard, we need to learn a lot from the western society. There, a disable child would get sophisticated gear and special machinery and be led in the front while the whole family would be following behind. But in this country, a disable child is, very often, considered a curse and fit to be locked away inside the house and away from the eyes of the society. Shame on us!

from:  Ramya S
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 18:43 IST

This inhumane act from the pilot was uncalled for. A person with disability neither needs our sympathy nor our hatred instead he/she needs our acknowledgment of his/her disability and that we treat him/her with respect as any NORMAL being out of the HUMAN code of conduct.

from:  Manish
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 18:41 IST

I would be lying if I were to say that I am surprised. Honestly, one feels a lack of genuine human empathy and understanding in people at times, especially when dealing with people with disabilities. These are ostracized in our society as inferior beings. Particularly severe is the problem of people that are mentally disabled to varying degrees. These are shunned and neglected even by their parents. Understandably, the situation is a tough one for them and even other societies including western ones still have problems even though they have come a long way in the meantime. Fortunately, the letters on this forum all seem to be in the right spirit. I don't know how people might have reacted to this sort of an incident 20 or 30 years ago. Let's hope for more empathy and humanity. People who are disabled have simply been given a different start in life by fate. They are not guilty nor objects of pity. Like Gandhiji said "Treat others the way you would wish to be treated".

from:  Vivek
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 16:28 IST

My heart goes out to the plight of the Ms jeeja ghosh, there is an immediate need for widespread awareness regarding people with disabilities in our country. However bashing the captain of the flight is not right, the focus should be on the need of educating our pilots on this issue, all those who are crying for blood of this poor chap should realize that there is no training, no classes, no circular guiding him in the matter. Plus inability of producing 'fit to travel' certificate on part of Ms. jeeja ghosh didn't help much either. The guy in question is a pilot not a doctor who could have differentiated between critical and non critical cases. In the end he is responsible for safety of hundreds of life, without any documentation supporting Ms. jeeja claims of being 'fit to travel' alone in an aircraft, pilot (in consultation with cabin crew, ground staff and co pilot) did what he thought was right for the safety of his flight as well as safety of Ms jeeja ghosh.

from:  puneet sharma
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 16:12 IST

The scrutiny must have been done at the time of booking the air ticket itself.It is a private airline and they are charging whatever they feel like and it is their duty to make the on board passenger to reach the destination. The pilot should be demanded for explanation for such an ugly act...

from:  Siju
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 15:58 IST

It has been extremely disheartening to read about the shameful conduct of the employees of SpiceJet airlines, particularly that of Mr Utprabh Tiwari, towards Ms Jeeja Ghosh. The treatment of people with altered ability has come a long way worldwide and it is a shame that such discriminatory behavior and small-mindedness still persists publicly in India today. Ms Ghosh is a remarkable individual as those who have interacted with her can testify. I met her for the first time about 23 years ago while we were in school. She was a source of inspiration to me then and I am confident to many others in the years since. Her life story is one of someone overcoming disability and integrating with society in ways that few others have achieved. If this is the way Ms Ghosh is treated, then, one wonders about the plight of others with altered ability. While disability is not contagious, small mindedness is. Every society should vaccinate itself against the virus of small-mindedness and eradicate it.

from:  Rajesh Subramanian
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 15:56 IST

Pilot and airline should be penalised for such a inhuman, henious crime.

from:  Neeraj
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 15:54 IST

Dear Editor,If what is stated by the victim is true,the pilot deserves to be punished by the airlines.No passenger is safe in his hands!

from:  Rajendran S
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 14:42 IST

Not travelling again by Spice Jet. Have one Spice Jet flight on 26th March and that would be the last time I fly that carrier.

from:  Sandip
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 14:39 IST

Let's not lynch the Pilot yet! The Spice Jet 'Management' said that it was the Pilot who refused. There is no evidence to show the Pilot directly refused, for all you know, the Management might have used this opportunity to fire a person with 'attitude problems'. I don't think that we have days where an Airline will listen to a Pilots demands (even legitimate ones concerning safety), therefore the claim that the Pilot refused sounds fishy! IMHO, it is the airline that is to blame. I can't believe that airline management can't take disciplinary action against an erring Pilot and simply say "we can't go against the Pilots wishes". Seriously, I am looking forward to the day where Hospital Management cannot say no to Doctors, Ministers and Bureaucrats can't say no to experts they hire, Media houses can't say no to journalists etc. I don't believe that a Pilot has much say in India.

from:  Subramani
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 14:29 IST

I am speechless and ashamed. We in India have no respect for the physically challenged people? The Pilot must receive severe penalty and should loose his license. The Airline should also pay the penalty to the victim.

from:  AK
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 14:28 IST

Ms Ghosh should file a suit against the pilot for harassment. He is morally bankrupt already - translate that into financial terms too!

from:  hibiscus
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 14:24 IST

The action is extremely commendable; but is that action enough? Folks I will tell you what I am going to do; I travel a lot on business and unless SpiceJet / Jet Air gives an unconditional public apology and sufficient compensation to Ms. Ghosh; I will abandon Jet Air / Spice Jet in totality in all my future travels. You need to hurt these people where it really hurts, their revenue / profitability; Please join me in my initiative if you travel on these airlines; this is a true way to express solidarity with Ms Ghosh rather than typing up empathy. THANK YOU.

from:  V Saravanan
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 14:20 IST

To the concerned airlines and the pilot - Be a human first, your wife or your kid or your mom or your dad - can meet with an accident any moment and can become a disabled person then on, and will you let back your wife or your kid back at home for life time? If you do not want to let down your dignity and say 'yes' for the above question, then I wish to end this message as I do not wish to talk with an undefined organism, who cannot accommodate into any category, be it human or animal as they both have the sympathy.

from:  Mahesh R
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 14:00 IST

This is not just an incident of deporting a disable person from an Airline. This is a normal incident for any person in India. This will happen again and again in India. If you stop this incident, some other incident will happen and will continue to happen. No one is afraid of Indian laws. This is mainly attributed to the fact of delayed judicial deliveries. Sufficient number of courts and a fast judicial system only can change society and its behaviour. In developed nations, people really respect law and they will try their max not to disobey a fast acting law. We consider murder as priorities, even civil obedience is of much importance and to be dealt with priority.

from:  Renjith
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 13:36 IST

This psychopathic behavior of few individuals hurts. If you are taking an exceptional step, atleast explain it on spot. Don't throw people like a piece of trash! Sue this pilot and airlines for the mental trauma caused.

from:  I.Anand
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 13:35 IST

Very Sad..............Very sad indeed not only for Jeeja but also for the pilot!

from:  Neeta Laul
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 13:24 IST

Such a disgust. Refusal of written statement shows that they themselves considered them wrong.

from:  Aditi
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 13:19 IST

Airlines should be aware of the guidelines and the incidence should not have occurred. The mentioned Airline should be strictly dealt with along with the responsible Pilot.

from:  Ashish Singh
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 13:17 IST

You cannot expect more than an individual who is basically a matriculate and inexperienced. Pilot job is very glamorous because for some reason which is not agreeable at present, they are overpaid in Indian context. In India money is the yardstick to determine someone`s status and maturity, very unfortunate!

from:  Ibrahim
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 13:07 IST

Pilot and the airline are equally responsible for the act serious action should be taken against pilot and airlines both kindly check the credentials of pilot.

from:  virender
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 12:57 IST

even after 65 years of independence its a shame that such attitude prevails in an Indian. if this pilot is not stripped out off his job it wont be sufficient. let it be an exemplary punishment. and madam you rock.

from:  divya. v
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 12:47 IST

This is very painful for the suffering person - more than what the
disease causes.Considering the fact that captain has complete
responsibility for the safety of each passenger in flight and if he took
the mentioned decision on such safety concerns how can Spicejet assure
another flight on the next day. Will the pilot of the other flight will
not be concerned about safety or this conveys that the first pilot took
a wrong decision of not allowing the person to fly?
This issue came to light because of the Hindu and i believe the paper
will make Spicejet authorities to answer.

from:  Kshitij Agarwal
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 12:37 IST

Excellent stuff by Jeeja Ghosh. Good on you for reporting this incident
and don't ever give this matter up.

from:  Sadhan
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 12:33 IST

I am wondering what was the concern of the pilot? did anybody ask the
pilot what his concern was? Ideally the flight should not have had taken
off without the passenger. I wish the airline gets rid of this
pilot...did the pilot own the aircraft? disgusting to see such
incidences happening...

from:  Vishal
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 12:27 IST

First, Pilots shall be aware of the rules and guidelines pertaining to the boarding of passengers. In addition, victim passenger has all rights to sue the Airline, for, the blame shall not be confined only to the pilot, as the entire airline is responsible for this irresponsible act.

from:  Vipul Jha
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 12:25 IST

Absolutely shocking that SpiceJet can tolerate such behavior from a
captain! Outrageous. Sue them both!

from:  Parag
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 12:11 IST

i appreciate the brave lady, she has done a commendable job by raising her voice against the unlawful act,its very surprised that a pilot has not only forcefully de-boarded but also shown his atrocity over the plane, this type of mentality is going to harm the mankind and must be enquired as well as punished.

from:  sara
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 11:59 IST

High time to take strong actions against such airlines.

from:  Kuldeep Sagar
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 11:57 IST

I completely understand your plight dear Jeeja Ghosh.Being a person with physical problems in an unforgiving country like India is a bane.I too have gone through many horrors in life.I guess the only solution for you now is to completely give up on flying and change to using rail or road.

Who knows maybe the train driver may come and tell you he can't drive the train because of you.Just because we are specially gifted,people look at us and make fun,which is the most hardest thing to digest.I feel sorry this country and ponder what my future holds in this pathetic country.

I really wished I was born in Europe or America where life would have been easier for people like us.Anyways no point blaming anyone,we must think positive and continue with our lives.Cheers.

from:  Sumith
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 11:41 IST

Thanks for bringing this awareness.
These rules should be written on full display at the airport.

Common people and airline staff will then know it and follow it.

from:  Abhinav
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 11:35 IST

American Airlines allow Puppies along with a passenger. Called Help dogs these animals fly with a blind person , person allergic to some substances whose smell is perceived quickly by the dog or puppy. No extra is charged . Why other air lines do not understand needs of passengers ?

from:  I.J.Swamy
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 11:13 IST

If the pilot's father were diabled he might have got him a bed in the flight. Sue him and Jet Airways Ms. Ghosh.

from:  Subramoniam
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 10:58 IST

I firmly believe that these people should be taught basic human values, before these people are designated to higher ranks.

from:  RUPESH
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 10:54 IST

Sorry to know that the visually impaired had to face this trauma.

Thanks to the editor for this information.Was the captain not aware of how to handle such passengers ? Didn't he knew that such visually challenged people have the right for air travel? if the airlines was Air India/Indian Airlines, this situation wouldnt have repeated because, they would have handled such situations well.

from:  Kumaraswamy
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 10:51 IST

It is very disheartening to see the india I love where dharma-ahimsa-compassion are part of daily life the cruel irony of callous indifferance meted out to physically challenged individuals. As a victim of polio -a pilot- a physician I feel ashamed to call my self an indian under these circumstances which are totally rectifiable- should not be tolerated.For god's sake let us behave as good samaritan indians who truly respect our fellow human beings.

from:  bala srinivasan
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 10:28 IST

I wonder whether the attitude of the pilot would be the same if the passenger with special abilities was his mother.

from:  Shahid
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 10:16 IST

Disabled people have all rights to lead their life with dignity and respect. Cerebral palsy is not a disease which is contagious and all people of the soceity should be made aware of it.

In my opinion the pilot should be punished and demanded explanation for his act.

from:  ZANA
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 09:23 IST

I think pilot is only emotionless pilot.He is not good human being.Every person should helpful for disable person.pilot have to learn human morality.

from:  smita ghorpade
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 08:52 IST

There is no reason not agreeing with the argument put up by the
On a lessor note, Editor of Hindu should have done away with one
paragraph which is a full repeat of one above (under section 5.1)!

from:  Ananata Armugam
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 07:47 IST

For some reason the whole story does not sound logical at all and cannot be true. I wonder how come such article even get published. The only logical explanation for this event - you are talking about a severely mentally challenged captain - which cannot be a case, as they undergo rigorous fitness testing medically.

from:  suresh kumar
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 06:41 IST

Hope Utprabh Tiwari is summarily fired. Would this have happenned to Stephen Hawking? If UtPrabh is not fired SpiceJet should be boycotted. Ms. Jeeja Ghosh should sue Utprabh and SpiceJet for discrimination.

from:  Ramesh S
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 06:32 IST

This is an atrocious act that not only needs to be condemned but also be dealt with all the seriousness it demands.

from:  Sriram
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 05:32 IST

This is nonsense. I hope before the Indian Govt does anything, if at all, someone at Spicejet gets some sense and severely disciplines the inhuman pilot for the cruelty he meted out to Ms. Ghosh. And I sincerely hope that she takes Spicejet to court and media follows up on this story.

from:  Sangram
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 04:56 IST

The pilot should be given training on human emotions and behavorial aspects. He seems to be humane handicapped and seems contagious to his sub pilot and others.

from:  V.Ganesh
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 04:46 IST

Jeeja Ghosh is absolutely right in demanding sacking of 'Utprabh Tiwari'. There is no use in getting education if you cannot show compassion to people in need.

from:  ssk
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 01:40 IST
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