In breach of Indian and European regulations, India's state owned flag carrier Air India puts passengers with disabilities through needless misery.
The sighting of scores of disabled passengers left waiting for assistance after disembarking Air India flights has become part of the daily routine at major airports served by India's flag carrier. The reason why vulnerable passengers are left waiting without assistance for up to one hour is that the airline does not send assistance requests to airports.
However, Air India requires passengers with disabilities to notify the airline of their special needs at the time of booking. "In order to facilitate passengers requiring wheelchair assistance at the airport, Air India ensures that: Wheelchair requests are adequately recorded and confirmed in the SSR (special service request) element for each segment of the Air-India and interline journey," the airline's website says.
The airline fails to ensure the information is sent to the airport of destination. "Do you know how many assistance requests for passengers with disabilities we receive from Air India? Zero!" the passengers’ services manager at one of Europe's largest airports recently told Reduced Mobility Rights.
We ran an investigation on the matter with other EU airports served by Air India, receiving the same feedback. In one case, the airport managed to put enough pressure on Air India to obtain the airline send disabilities related assistance requests. However,
Not sending information pertaining to assistance requests of passengers with disabilities is a breach to India's Civil Aviation Requirement, Part 3, the law governing the carriage by air of persons with disability and persons with reduced mobility. The law says "The airline checking in the incapacitated passenger and persons with disabilities or reduced mobility shall be responsible for advising its ground staff at transit stations and the airport of disembarkation about the presence of incapacitated passengers and the location of wheelchairs and assistive devices on board and about the need to arrange for special assistance." Similar covenant governs European regulation 1107/2006.
On 21 March, Reduced Mobility Rights contacted Air India asking them to comment on the fact that airportsoften criticize airlines for not being able to provide them with pre notification of passengers with disabilities and reduced mobility service requests and how does Air India tackle the issue and interacts with airports to minimize this problem.
At the beginning of April, Air India's spokesperson Paula Chattaraj said that the airline's press office did not know how to address the question. She said she would contact their airport agents to learn more. To date, Air India has been unable to comment.
Making sure that Air India's most vulnerable passengers are well looked after is not a priority for the state owned airline. To date, passengers with disabilities traveling on Air India, who duly informed the airline of their needs, face humiliating and discriminatory treatment upon disembarking their flight because the airline does not comply with Indian and European law, and fails to transfer vital information that would allow its most vulnerable passengers to be assisted with dignity.
About the author
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Reduced Mobility Rights, Roberto Castiglioni is an expert consultant of PRM regulations and disabled passengers support procedures, and has personal experience as travelling partner and carer of a passenger with reduced mobility.
Roberto is a member of the UK Civil Aviation Authority Access To Air Travel Working Group. He is also a member of the Easyjet Special Assistance Advisory Group. Chaired by David Blunkett MP, the independent advisory group esaag provides Easyjet with strategic guidance and practical advice on the evolving needs of passengers requiring special assistance.