Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Autistic boy denied boarding over 'threat' at Bengaluru airport

Bengaluru: In a shocking incident at Kempegowda International Airport (KIA) here, a 15-year-old autistic boy was initially denied boarding by the SriLankan Airlines ground staff who claimed he could be a threat to the pilots and fellow passengers.

However, his mother fought against the bizarre decision of the airlines crew, who finally allowed him to board the flight after a two-hour ordeal.

The crew members, though, allegedly kept following the teenager till the plane in an intimidating manner. The mother has lodged a complaint with the airline and Bengaluru airport seeking action against the inconsiderate crew.

It was supposed to be a sweet beginning of a memorable holiday to the Maldives for the Menons and their two teenage sons from Babusapalya. They reached KIA on the evening of May 16 to board the SriLankan Airlines flight UL 174 to Colombo en route to Male. But things took a sour turn around 12.30am on May 17 when the mother, father and sons were waiting to check-in their luggage for the flight.

"Two male ground staffers of SriLankan Airlines came up to us and asked questions about our 15-year-old younger son, who is autistic and communicates using a mobile app. Shockingly, they began to say that he would be a threat to the pilots and fellow passengers on the plane if allowed to board. My son was hearing all this and stood scared holding our hands," recalled the boy's mother, who was stunned by the thoughtless approach the crew was taking towards an autistic passenger.

While the family showed the SriLankan Airlines duo at KIA the boy's unique disability ID (UDID) card issued by the government of India, they demanded to see a certificate of the boy's treating doctor that he could travel by flight. "I had to explain to them that autism is not a disease and there is no need for a doctor to treat him, let alone authenticate him to fly. He is a well-travelled boy and his last trip was to Dubai, and he has never been harassed over his condition," the mother, who is a special educator and psychologist, said.

With the airline crew holding up the autistic teen and the family by forcing them out of the check-in line, the parents argued it was illegal to deny boarding to the boy over his condition. However, they were reprimanded by the crew. "Our questions soon had the crew turn their conversation to threats of denying boarding to all of us. My teenage son was watching all this unfold and we kept calm to ensure he did not get upset," the mother said.

Taking note of the situation, officials of Bangalore International Airport Ltd (BIAL), which operates KIA, intervened. They informed the airline crew the family had informed them about their travel with a child with special needs two days in advance, and the information was duly shared with the airline's office.

"Following this, they took a copy of his UDID card and contacted the airline higher-ups. Finally, after two hours, we got clearance for my son to fly and the information on the clearance was given to us by the BIAL staff, who were extremely supportive in the situation," said the Bengalurean.

But the family's ordeal didn't end even then as two SriLankan Airlines crew allegedly tailed the teen from a distance as the group cleared pre-departure security checks and boarded the flight.

31/05/2023 Petlee Peter/Times of India

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