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.
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.)