Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Air travel for passengers with disabilities still stressful

Mumbai: Not being assured of airline assistance for boarding and de-boarding at airports, especially foreign ones, can make air travel quite stressful for visually impaired solo travellers. A professor from Pune had a difficult time early this month after his request for assistance at Johannesburg and Abu Dhabi airport was accepted by the airlines only after several protests.
Last week, Sanjay Jain, associate professor at ILS Law College, travelled solo to Johannesburg to attend a disabilities conference. He was booked to fly Air Tanzania and return on Etihad via Abu Dhabi. He called up the airlines for assistance a week before his flight. “I’m visually impaired, I cannot board without help,” said Jain.
“Air Tanzania promptly responded to my request for assistance with boarding.” With Etihad, it was first a no, then a yes on day two, provided he produced a medical certificate. “Then they agreed to assist, but refused to send a mail or a screenshot or some kind of documentation that I could rely on as proof, if they eventually denied help at the airport. It was quite stressful,” he said. TOI sent a query to Etihad on September 27. The airline did not respond. But on October 3, it did provide assistance to Jain in Johannesburg and Abu Dhabi airports.
“Why haven’t airlines yet adopted common practices that makes travel easier for people with disabilities. Why should we go through such stress before a flight?” asked Jain.
Airlines global trade body, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), in its annual general meeting held this year, had unanimously approved a resolution to improve the air travel experience for the estimated one billion people living with disabilities worldwide. But it seems, there are miles to go before it becomes a reality.
On domestic air travel front though, much has improved, especially after the 2016 Jeeja Gosh Supreme Court judgment, said solicitor Kanchan Pamnani, who has boarded a number of domestic flights solo in the past four decades.
The Supreme Court Jeeja Ghosh 2016 judgement has brought much attention to problems faced by passengers with disabilities. Disabilities rights activist Ghosh had moved the court after a 2012 incident, wherein she was offloaded from a SpiceJet Kolkata-Goa flight on instructions of the commander.
09/10/19 Manju V/Times of India
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