IN AN incident that raises questions over the handling of air travellers with special needs, budget airline IndiGo allegedly denied boarding to a specially abled child on a Hyderabad-bound flight at the Ranchi airport on Saturday.
A senior official of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) told The Indian Express that the aviation safety regulator is probing the incident, and that a report has been sought from the airline. IndiGo said in a statement that the child “could not board the flight…as he was in a state of panic”.
The incident was brought to light in a Facebook post by a passenger at the airport who was waiting to board another flight. The author of the post, Manisha Gupta, told The Indian Express that the IndiGo staff “did not show any compassion”.
“He (the staff on duty) had made up his mind and that was it,” said Gupta, adding that she “works in the social sector” and “has the experience in dealing with matters of disability rights”. She took a flight on another airline to Delhi.
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Gupta also posted a video of the incident, along with her Facebook post, showing several passengers at the airport arguing with the IndiGo ground employee, seeking to speak with a senior supervisor. It shows the child seated on a wheelchair.
In the post, Gupta wrote that there was a delegation of doctors on the same flight who asked the ground staff to get the airport doctor to take a call on the fitness of the child — and offered “full support” to the child and his parents on the flight.
It also said that several passengers, including a man who identified himself as a government official, questioned the airline staff’s decision.
“’This child is…uncontrollable. He is in a state of panic’, the Indigo manager kept shouting and telling everyone. But all we could see was a young adolescent, sitting very quietly on a wheelchair, terror-stricken by how he was being called out as a risk to the normal world. ‘The only person who is in panic is you’, a woman passenger retorted,” Gupta wrote.
The parents of the child could not be reached for comment.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Gupta said: “The child had a breakdown. It seemed that he had gone on a spiral of stress and the mother had slapped him once. There was a bit of crying and the sound echoed. In the meantime, the mother said sorry to her child and started hugging him to calm him down. She also cried. At this point, a person from Indigo Customer Service came to them and said if the child continues in this manner, he won’t be allowed to board.”
Gupta said: “The child was fed, given medicines and taken care of by their parents, and he was not showing any ‘risky behaviour’. However, when boarding began, he was not allowed to board.”
According to her, several people “stood up against this discrimination”.
“One of them showed Supreme Court judgments on treating the specially abled with dignity. The employee did not budge and kept saying that he was the final authority. While I had to leave around 7.45 pm, I saw the parents pleading from the other side of the glass doors to let them board, but no one moved,” Gupta said.
In a statement, an IndiGo spokesperson said: “In view of the safety of passengers, a specially-abled child could not board the flight with his family on May 7, as he was in a state of panic.”
“The ground staff waited for him to calm down till the last minute, but to no avail. The airline made the family comfortable by providing them hotel stay and the family flew the next morning to their destination. We regret the inconvenience caused to the passengers. IndiGo prides itself on being an inclusive organisation, be it for employees or its customers; and over 75,000 specially-abled passengers fly with IndiGo every month,” the spokesperson said.
In Ranchi, Birsa Munda airport director Vinod Sharma said they were looking into the issue.
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