Wheelchair users at Chennai airport face several hardships — from delays in getting them organised to, at times, elaborate security screenings.
The experience is vastly different from those at other international airports, fliers say.
Smitha Sadasivan (33) who suffers from multiple sclerosis said, “Getting a wheelchair on time at Chennai airport is not easy at all. I have seen passengers wait for at least 20 minutes if they don’t inform officials in advance.”
Disabled persons who bring their customised wheelchairs find the security clearance a problem, she added. During the process, while shifting from their wheelchair to the one provided by the airline, they are invariably assisted by staff. “When members of the airline staff shift me, my spine goes for a toss. In international airports, including Frankfurt, Bangkok, Seoul and Hongkong, they scan me along with my wheelchair. I don’t know why we don’t have such facilities here,” Ms. Sadasivan added.
This procedure is not just disturbing but also affects the dignity of the individual, said Rajiv Rajan, a cerebral palsy patient. “To be shifted in such a manner in a public place is not right. Plus, the floor is slippery which makes it even more difficult for us,” he said.
Apart from the slippery floor and unsanitary condition of the toilets for the disabled, they don’t face any other problem at the new terminals of Chennai airport, they say.
Officials of Airports Authority of India (AAI) said it was the responsibility of the airlines and not the airport operator to provide assistance for wheelchair users.
Sources said, on an average, every airline maintains about 10-15 wheelchairs at the Chennai airport.
“It would be ideal if we receive the request for wheelchair assistance at the time of reservation itself. But even if we are told just after the passenger has arrived, we try to give the assistance as early as possible. The check-in counters are easily accessible for everyone now, anyone can ask for wheelchair at the counter,” said an official of Jet Airways.
“But we have to screen them in our wheelchair for security reasons. Such procedures are good for the safety of the airline and the passengers,” said the official.