Monday, November 24, 2008

To the Airline Giants in India

The Director General Civil Aviation (DGCA) issued a landmark policy on the ‘Carriage of Persons with Disabilities’ in May this year. This is a landmark initiative not only because neither the Railways nor the Ministry of Shipping, Road Transport and Highways have any such recognition of travelers with Disabilities but also because this Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR) was, for the first time in any government regulations’ history, compiled following inputs from Disabled Peoples Organizations (DPO’s) and extensive public consultation. Though it’s not entirely pro disabled flyers, yet this considerably progressive policy is perceived as a step forward by the Indian government to affirm its commitment to truly embracing the diversity amongst travelers.

The famous Rajiv Rajan case of June 2007, that was filed in the Chennai High Court following Air Sahara refusing boarding to Rajiv on the pretext that he was unescorted and did not carry a ’Fit to Fly Certificate’ was discharged from the court on the pretext that the new CAR (Section 3 – Air Transport, Series ‘M’ Part I Sub: - Carriage by Air of Persons with Disability and/ or Persons with Reduced Mobility) has been issued to ensure that any such cases in the future can be rightly addressed. It has been over six months since this CAR was implemented, but if one evaluates the ground reality nothing much has changed and disabled travelers continue to live on the mercy of generally non-compliant airlines and their ill informed customer interaction staff.

 What does the CAR say?

 AIRLINE Responsibilities (to list a few)

 1.      Cannot refuse to carry unescorted persons with disabilities, even if they do not have a disability certificate.

2.      People with disabilities are not required to produce any medical certificate nor sign any indemnity forms before flying.

3.      Airlines must provide all necessary assistance to a passenger with disabilities who may want to travel alone.

4.      Airline staff assigned to handling disabled passengers e.g cabin crew/commercial staff MUST be trained in:

a.       Disability Awareness

b.      Assisting persons with reduced mobility (during embarkation)

c.       Assisting unaccompanied passengers with disabilities (in-flight)

5.      The airlines must provide for boarding devices such as ambulifts and aisle chairs. The use of the ambulift is free for passengers with a disability certificate.

6.      In-flight availability of information in alternate formats such as Braille, Large print etc

7.      All airlines need to formulate and publish (including on their website) detailed procedures for the carriage of disabled passengers.

 Ground Reality

 Today when it is possible to fly from Delhi to Mumbai in about Rs 4,000/-, people with reduced mobility especially those who are unable to climb the steps leading to the aircraft need to pay about Rs 1,685/- at each airport for the use of an ambulift. This almost doubles the fare for a person with reduced mobility vis-à-vis a non disabled person. Although the DGCA regulation entrusts the responsibility and bills for the required equipment onto the airline, unfortunately this doesn’t necessarily work as promised in a country where manual labor comes cheaper than equipment, and easy for heavy weight airline lobby to flout the law. On an everyday basis the airlines generally prefer to keep disabled travelers in the dark and rather than giving them the choice of an ambulift to board with dignity, they prefer to carry them up stars leading to the aircraft door instead by 4 porters.

 Not all airlines/crafts have aisle chairs to assist disabled passengers to get to their seat. People with disabilities are carried physically in disrespectful manner to their seats. Since a disabled passenger is last to be boarded out there have been instances where at the night halting station, they have had to wait for over the total flying time for assistance to reach to help them board out of the flight.  More often than not a disabled person is expected to continue sitting precariously on a narrow and un-maintained aisle chair till the luggage claming area as the airline staff is just too lazy to get the passenger wheelchair from hold till the door of the aircraft that they are supposed to do.

 Websites of all Indian operators have far from adequate information available on ‘Carriage of Disabled Passengers’ as required by the CAR. This non provision of information seems a reflection of the ambiguous and unclear policies that the airline towards this. The uncertainty or the non compliance to the ‘Civil Aviation Requirement – Carriage of Disabled Persons’ in the management level permeates down well till the loading staff as none of them is confident about their responsibilities towards a disabled passenger.

 Examples of information that is available on some Low Cost Domestic airline websites :

  • Go Air - In spite of the CAR denying the requirement of a medical certificate, GoAir requires a Medical Fitness Certificate  ‘Fit to Fly as a Passenger’.
  • IndiGo reserves the right to deny these special services if not requested in advance. Where as the CAR puts the onouce on the airlines for getting adequate information from the passenger at the time of booking, therefore the right to deny services does not apply.
  • Spice Jet and Jetlite have some very scanty information given out of a passenger with special needs.

  It seems that the airlines purposefully do not provide all information on their site as is required by the recent CAR, as providing information on the website will make their faulty policies and procedures transparent to public scrutiny. If it becomes so then demanding Rs. 1685/- extra from disabled passengers just to be able to board the craft with dignity will no longer be possible.


 Air travel presently is an extremely stressful activity for a disabled flyer. Passengers with disabilities are always at the mercy of the untrained staff to make their journey a bit better. Disabled passengers pay the same amount as any other passenger but the services provided to them are always substandard as compared to their non co passengers. This has been recognized to be so by the Government hence the issuing of the CAR. In spite of this there has been no improvement on the carriage of a disabled passenger. It is yet another classic example of non implementation of a Government policy. The only way that seem to be left to ensuring improvement is for people with disabilities, knowing about their rights as a flyer and demand to be treated respectfully each time. Finally, unless the Government is able to stand up to the strong air operators lobby, there can be no improvements that a disabled flyer can expect. 

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