Budget airline Easyjet has been slammed with allegations of discrimination against the disabled for not allowing blind Joanna Jones on board with her guide dog.
Joanna Jones lives in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. For the past 12 years, she has been traveling by air from Belfast to the South East to meet family and friends. Joanna is blind, a condition which has not stopped her from traveling. She travels with her guide dog, one of the approximately 5,000 in use according to the U.K. Charity Guide Dogs (https://www.guidedogs.org.uk).
Few days ago she decided to fly south. On Sunday, 11 December, it was time to make her way home. Joanna showed up on time at the Easyjet counter at Gatwick airport, to catch her flight back to Belfast.
An Easyjet employee requested Joanna to produce "correct paperwork" for her guide dog. Joanna claims this was the first time in 12 years she heard of such request. Despite her being visually impaired, and despite her guide dog meeting all required standards bar the paperwork, Joanna was not allowed to board the aircraft.
"In line with CAA guidelines, easyJet’s regulations make clear that documentation must be carried showing that they are a trained guide dog," Andrew McConnell, Corporate Affairs Manager for Easyjet said. “In this case, unfortunately Miss Jones did not have this documentation with her and by the time it was faxed through she missed her flight."
Easyjet is the U.K. carrier operating domestic flights with the most restrictive rules for carriage of guide dogs. It is the only airline in the U.K. who discriminates which charity provides approved paperwork.
"For the purposes of these Regulations, dogs are considered service dogs by easy Jet provided they are trained by one of the following charities: Support Dogs; the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association; Hearing Dogs for Deaf People; Dogs for the Disabled or Canine Partners. Service dogs will only be permitted to travel if the passenger is in possession of an official identity document provided by one of the above-mentioned charities confirming that the dog is a fully trained service dog or is under the control of a trainer. The service dog must wear a standard identifying jacket/harness."
Flybe has similar rules; however, its policy states that "The dog must be recognised as an assistance dog, having been trained by an organisation that is a member or associate of Assistance Dogs International (ADI) or the International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF)".
Other airlines operating domestic routes such as British Midlands International have more relaxed rules.
Joanna Jones reached out to her friends and the media using her Twitter account. The missing paperwork was faxed in from Belfast and Joanna was rebooked on the next available flight. Too bad this flight departed Gatwick the day after the ordeal.
“EasyJet staff offered every assistance to Miss Jones and transferred her free of charge onto the first available easyJet flight on Monday. We apologise to Miss Jones for any inconvenience caused, “Andrew McConnell added.
"My mum was with me, luckily. I would have been stranded without her," Joanna said.
Joanna was not offered accommodation by Easyjet for the unplanned overnight stay. "We understand that Ms Jones returned to her Mother's home," Andrew McConnell told Reduced Mobility Rights.
Easyjet mentions the CAA guidelines. We browsed the CAA website looking for said rules and here below is what we found.
"An Assistance Dog is one that has been specifically trained to assist a disabled person, and has been qualified by one of the charitable organisations registered as members of Assistance Dogs (UK). An assistance dog will need to comply with the rules of the Pet Travel Scheme, run by DEFRA."
"The policy and criteria for the carriage of an Assistance Dog can vary from airline to airline and it will be necessary to contact the relevant airline for further information, either before, or at the time of booking travel," says the CAA website. Note: This information is not accessible to the visually impaired.
The Pet Travel Scheme on the DEFRA (Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) website mainly concerns travel from and to the U.K. there is no explicit indication or distinction of travel rules within the U.K., is not user friendly and is not directly accessible to the visually impaired.
Despite the lack of clear rules for domestic travel by air, irrespective of the fact that available guidelines are hardly accessible to the blind, and ignoring the fact Joanna had contacted the airline several days before her trip to tell Easyjet she was traveling with her guide dog, the charity Guide Dogs Transport Policy Officer issued a statement in support of Easyjet: "While what happened to Ms Jones is unfortunate, airlines do have rules which say that assistance dog owners must provide proof of their dog's status. Those rules are in place to protect passenger safety, and we would remind all our guide dog owners to carry their ID cards with them at all times," John Welsman said.
“I told I was travelling with a guide dog and they did not mention this paperwork then. She was wearing her tag and harness. That should have been good enough. It was obvious I am a blind person and my dog is a guide dog,” Joanna Jones said.
Whenever I think discrimination cannot get worse, reality proves me wrong. Reading of Joanna's ordeal makes me sick. Traveling by air is a complex exercise for an able passenger. It can easily become overwhelming for a person with a disability. "We apologize for any inconvenience caused," Easyjet says. Do these people know what they have done to a vulnerable human being? "What happened to Ms Jones is unfortunate," Guide Dogs say. Unfortunate?
Let's call spade a spade. Joanna Jones went by the book. Joanna called the airline several days before her travel time to notify she was traveling with her guide dog. She was not told about the paperwork. She could not be aware of the Easyjet rule because it is hardly accessible to abled persons, totally inaccessible to the blind.
This young woman, obviously blind, shows up at Gatwick with her guide dog and some individual totally lacking compassion makes her miss her flight, actually bullies her by taking advantage of her disability. Apologies? Apologies rejected.
EU 1107/2006 cannot be enforced because the U.K. Department for Transport has yet to transfer enforcement powers to Civil Procedure. However, EU 261/2004 does apply.
The passenger was denied boarding for reasons outside her control. She had gone by the book and the airline failed to provide her with information essential to her flight. She is entitled to monetary compensation. She was entitled to free food and free accommodation. Enough is enough. Society can no longer tolerate these behaviours. We cannot tolerate vulnerable people to be bullied, humiliated, and discriminated. We cannot accept that those guilty of such appalling actions get away with an apology.
As per Mr John Welsman's remark. What is truly unfortunate is that there are no clear rules and guidelines for domestic travel by air with guide dogs. It is exceedingly unfortunate that information is widely inaccessible to the visually impaired. It is most unfortunate that a charity takes the side of the bully.
Airlines shall no longer be allowed to degrade and discriminate disabled passengers. Jerry King’s Mobilitoon on this story hits the nail on the head on Easyjet’s perceived sensitivity towards disability issues. Enough said.