Sunday, February 05, 2023

American Airlines offloads New York-bound woman cancer patient in Delhi

New Delhi: A woman cancer patient, who had recently undergone surgery and was supposed to travel from Delhi to New York on American Airlines flight AA-293, was offloaded at the Delhi airport on January 30 allegedly after she could not comply with the crew instructions to keep her handbag in the overhead cabin. The passenger claimed that she had asked for assistance to lift the bag because she had a recent surgery and was wearing a cast, but she was allegedly refused help and then asked to alight from the aircraft.

The US-based patient, Meenakshi Sengupta, has filed a police complaint against American Airlines for “mistreating her and deboarding her off the aircraft wrongfully when asked for assistance for a bag weighing more than 5 pounds”.

Arun Kumar, DG, Directorate General of Civil Aviation, told TOI: “We will seek a report and look into this. We do not approve of insensitivity.”

In a statement, American Airlines said: “On January 30, prior to the departure of American Airlines flight 293 from Delhi (DEL) to New York (JFK), a disruptive customer was removed from the aircraft for failure to follow crew member instructions. Our Customer Relations team has reached out to the customer to refund the unused portion of their ticket.”

Sengupta was in India on a vacation when she was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo surgery. She then was to return to the US. After the incident, she had to book a fresh ticket on another airline as she had a doctor’s appointment to continue medical treatment there.

Tagging American Airlines on social media, the complainant’s daughter also narrated the experience her mother had to undergo inside the flight.

Sengupta, who was a wheelchair passenger, stated in her complaint that “the ground staff was very supportive and helpful and helped me get into the aircraft and put my handbag on the side of the seat. Once inside the flight, I had a conversation with the air hostess and I explained my health condition to them. None of the flight attendants mentioned about putting her handbag away but when the lights were dimmed and when the aircraft was about to depart, a flight attendant asked me to keep the bag in the overhead bin and refused to help saying ‘it’s not my job to do so’.”

After repeated requests for assistance, the cabin crew allegedly told her that she would be removed from the aircraft and the captain too did not help saying that a decision had been made already. “They were largely indifferent and didn’t want to interfere at all. They just kept asking me that I should be able to lift my own bags and manage everything. It’s not their job to help passengers (even with special needs or health issues). They said that if I’m so uncomfortable I should just deboard the flight. They were collective in their decision to deboard me,” Sengupta alleged.

Sengupta told TOI: “The flight attendant told me without provocation that I will be thrown out. I had a cast from my shoulder to my hand. It was a disrespectful experience. I could not fly the next day because they had flagged my PNR. I booked a ticket on another airline to Atlanta and from there travelled by road to Charlotte.”

05/02/23 V Ayyappan & Saurabh Sinha/Times of India

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