A para athlete today alleged that she was "ill-treated" by the crew of a private airline and "forcefully offloaded", even as the airlines refuted the claims.
A para athlete today alleged that she was “ill-treated” by the crew of a private airline and “forcefully offloaded”, even as the airlines refuted the claims. Madhu Bagri, a wheelchair tennis player, said that she had booked herself on a SpiceJet flight from Tirupati to Hyderabad, which was scheduled to take off at 8.25 am. But she was later evicted from the aircraft. According to the athlete, she was unable to reach her seat as the wheelchair could not fit in between the aisles of the aircraft, leading to an argument with the crew. “As the aisle was not wide enough for the wheelchair, I was asked to walk or crawl to reach my seat in the third row. When I asked the crew to accommodate me in the front row, they told me that it was an emergency seat and that differently-abled people were barred from occupying it,” Bagri told PTI. “They threw me out with my baggage and left me at the arrivals section of the airport without giving me any solution to reach my destination,” she complained. The tennis player has lodged a complaint with the airport director.
The airlines, however, denied any manhandling and ill treatment of the sports person. “On reaching the aircraft, the passenger insisted on having the front row seat. All front row seats in Q400 Bombardier aircraft are emergency exit rows and hence, passengers with any kind of disability are not allowed to sit on these seats as per the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) rules,” a SpiceJet spokesperson said in a statement. The airline said Bagri was offloaded as the plane was getting delayed, adding that “at no point was she manhandled or mistreated and the SpiceJet women staff assisted her out.”
As per the DGCA rules on ‘Carriage by Air – Persons with Disability and/or Persons with Reduced Mobility’, airlines shall not allocate those seats to persons with disability or reduced mobility where their presence would impede the crew in performing their duties, obstruct access to emergency equipment or impede emergency evacuation path of the aircraft.” The aviation body also mandates that in case a differently-abled passenger is offloaded, the airline will have to provide assistance. “If passengers for any reason have to be offloaded, highest possible priority for transportation shall be given to persons with disability or reduced mobility, including their escorts, if any,” it says.
SpiceJet noted that it had made arrangements for the athlete on a bigger aircraft which was scheduled to fly later in the day. “The passenger was given a choice to travel by SpiceJet’s Boeing flight, which was scheduled to depart at 4:30 pm and she was also informed that the first row seat would be reserved for her. However, the passenger continued to use offensive language,” the statement said.