Shocking insensitivity by AirAsia, denies ticket to blind activist for requesting assistance

Leading disability rights activist George Abraham has alleged that Malaysian low cost airline Air Asia denied him a ticket to fly from Goa to Delhi after he indicated that he needed assistance during travel.

Abraham, who is visually impaired, says he faced this while choosing his tickets for a conference in Goa. Speaking to NewzHook, Abraham said, "I opted for IndiGo to travel from Delhi to Goa, and for the return journey, I chose Air Asia. When I book air tickets, I always mention that I need assistance. Air Asia turned me down, saying they don't give assistance."

Abraham added that Air Asia may have been unclear about exactly what kind of assistance he needs.

"They may have thought I require help with eating my food, or going to the washroom. Whatever the case may be, an outright 'no' on the face of such a request is alarming.

Civil Aviation Ministry to step in?

Abraham has brought the incident to the notice of Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju as well as AirAsia. Disability rights activists across India took to social media to slam Air Asia, saying its yet another instance of how difficult air travel remains for the disabled.

NewzHook approached Air Asia for a statement, but so far there has been no comment from the airline.

Such instances far too routine, alleges community

This year alone, there have been innumerable instances of people with disabilities being denied wheelchair and other basic facilities at major airports, even after advance intimation.

Just last week, gender rights activist Nidhi Goyal, who is blind, slammed Lufthansa for locking her up at a room at Munich airport and denying her food or any other help. Soon after this, came the report of an elderly cancer patient from Nepal, who was denied a wheelchair at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi despite putting in a prior request.

"The fact is that air travel remains a problem for people with disabilities", says Nipun Malhotra, CEO of Nipman Foundation, that works in the area of health and advocacy for the disabled. Malhotra, who travels frequently, says his travel options are limited to IndiGo as that is the only airline, which has a ramp for boarding.

"Because I need the front seat to fit my wheelchair, this means planning much in advance because those are limited and mostly booked by others ahead of time" - Nipin Malhotra

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But as Goyal's experiences show, booking in advance is no guarantee of a comfortable, accessible travel. Meera Balaji experienced the same while traveling from Chennai to Coimbatore earlier this year. Balaji is a member of Special Child Assistance Network, a forum of parents of special needs kids in Chennai, and uses a wheelchair.

"Wheelchairs at Chennai airport are mostly broken and mangled and even to get that, one has to reach the airport much in advance. In May 2017, while traveling to Coimbatore, I had to be physically lifted as there was no wheelchair and my back was sprained for a week", says Balaji.

Move illegal, against constitution

Meanwhile, activists have called for strong action against Air Asia's move, calling the attitude illegal, unconstitutional and against the right to equality. They are demanding that the Civil Aviation Ministry step in to send out a strong message to other airlines.

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