Tuesday, March 13, 2012

“Blatant violations of rights of passengers- meeting”


It was yesterday that I was retuning from Delhi to Hyderabad after attending a meeting chaired by the Joint Secretary Civil Aviation. The title of the meeting was “Blatant violations of rights of passengers- meeting” and the real agenda of the meeting is unknown to me but I believe after having attended it, that the agenda was to give patient one hour fifteen hearing to the disabled people to somewhere pacify the anger in the sector regarding denying air travel to Jeeja Ghosh very recently.

I came out of the meeting jubilated that we were heard. I must say did boost my hopes for a short while.

I took the last flight out of the Delhi airport to reach Hyderabad at 11:00pm. I waited patiently for my luggage that included my wheelchair to arrive when by about midnight the airline staff looked into my matter as I was the only person left. I was informed that my wheelchair and cushion was sent to Bangalore.

Exhausted after the long day my only reaction was to ask ‘now what?’ In high spirits the ground staff happily informed me that my wheelchair would be back by the first flight the next morning at 6:30am and delivered to me.

I couldn’t believe my ears and eyes. On one hand in reaction to his perkiness my rightful response should have been of illation and appreciation, but on the other hand the words I was hearing were unbelievable. The thing is my wheelchair can be equated to my legs, I cannot move without my wheelchair.

I tried explaining this to ground staff, for whom my wheelchair was equal to a suitcase or a bag. Without any apologies he with a straight face said that they couldn’t do anything now. I asked him to talk to his assistant manager. He too said there was nothing they could do.

Our argument could have continued all night without resolution, but something made me ask him for a written statement saying they couldn’t do anything to help me. Instantly he called his asst. manager again who in turn called the manager who finally said that I could carry one of their dilapidated wheelchair home with me and return it the next day after my wheelchair was returned. 

It was 1 am by now. Tired I didn’t want to discuss anything more and left leaving their wheelchair behind because I am one of the few lucky people who have a standby wheelchair at home.

Since then I cannot but help rethink about the pacifying meeting we had yesterday with the Joint Secretary. At the meeting there were no solid actionable points decided on. Throughout there was flagging of issues we voiced and saying that they would look into the matter. There was a talk of forming a small committee to work on the issue without clarity of any timeframes.  When asked specifically about what action would be taken against Spice Jet in Jeeja’s case the JS very vehemently said that he did not want to talk about it in ‘public’. Here I was feeling stupid, thinking that we had gone to discuss the Blatant Violations of rights of passengers.

I apologies if some feel that I am being pessimistic but really I am confused about what the real outcome of the meeting was. My pessimism is based on past experience when in 2008 after several meeting with the Director General Civil Aviation the Civil Aviation Requirement on carriage of disabled people was enacted…yet four year later almost everyday disabled people are being discriminated.

My only hope this time is that we shouldn’t be so excitement about getting a patient hearing from the Ministry of Civil Aviation.  We need to stop congratulating ourselves and realize we still have no idea yet if action will be taken against the airlines for discrimination. Our hands are still empty and nothing has changed or expected to change in the near future.  


Shivani Gupta 
Director AccessAbility

5 comments:

  1. Shivani! This was yet again a very unfortunate incident and can not be digested for sure. What if you had a connecting flight with no additional wheelchair! I sincerely hope this never gets repeated. However, please don't be pessimistic. The meeting that you had indicates a seriousness on the part of DGCA/Ministry. However, it seems they need hand holding in implementation of CAR rather than occasional outbursts from the sector. The media hype created over Jeeja's issue had put the Government on the back foot and the meeting was for sure to pacify the sentiments. However, let this be a new beginning. We need to walk with the DGCA whose sincere efforts with the activists and NGOs brought in the new DGCA CAR while there existed none. Only requirement is proper mechanisms for implementation of the CAR and training of the Staff with penalty provisions inserted. DGCA has lots of powers to regulate the airliners and aerodrome operators and there is a will to do it. We need to help them to organize it on priority!
    regards
    Subhash

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  2. Wow do I understand your feelings of pessimism but at the same time, nothing in government or bureaucracy changes quickly. Otherwise it would not be bureaucracy. You are making great strides in small ways! Keep up the good work.

    When I was in India in January and flew from support to Mumbai, it was a hassle, and the fact they made people lift me out of my wheelchair sitting on the side so they could scan it was a very big inconvenience, but they did take my power chair after about 1 1/2 hours of arguing without extra charges. As I understand this is a HUGE improvement over flying on Indian domestic airlines just two or three years ago. you and others working with you are making great strides, but you have to look at it over a multiyear period.. Look back at where things will be hopefully in 10 years.

    Mark Felling, President, Broadened Horizons Inc. Unique Assistive Technologies for Disabled Individuals with Upper Extremity Limitations

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  3. Subhash and Mark, Thank you for your comments. I guess things are improving even if it is slow so that is good :-)

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  4. What do you think of this design as a short trip wheelchair? http://www.1800wheelchair.ca/product/4893/karman-aisle-wheelchair

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  5. Looks ok. Will be wrong to comment in detail without seeing it really . Indigo and Spicejet have similar looking aisle chairs but I think they are too lazy to actually use them also they do not have any procedure laid out to ensure they are used. I think anything to do with disabled passengers is just in the air :-) Procedures not worked out in adequate details.

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