Airlines can no longer deny boarding to any person with disability
The rules come weeks after a specially abled child was not allowed to board an IndiGo flight, and days after aviation watchdog imposed a ₹5 lakh fine for the airline’s deficient handling of the passenger.
Weeks after a specially abled child was not allowed to board an IndiGo flight, and days after aviation watchdog imposed a ₹5 lakh fine for the airline’s deficient handling of the passenger, the regulator issued new orders making it illegal for airlines to deny boarding to any person with a disability.
The move, a senior Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) official said, is to ensure that people with special needs are not misconstrued by airlines as behaving in an “unruly” manner — a classification that allows them to offload passengers who could be deemed as disrupting the flight’s service according to the civil aviation requirement (CAR) rules issued in 2017.
The DGCA notification amends CAR’s section 3, series M, part I, which now states: “ Airline shall not refuse carriage of any person on the basis of disability. However, in case, an airline perceives that the health of such a passenger may deteriorate in-flight, the said passenger will have to be examined by a doctor- who shall categorically state the medical condition and whether the passenger is fit to fly or not. After obtaining the medical opinion, the Airline shall take the appropriate call.”
During the May 7 incident, IndiGo claimed that the child was “visibly in panic” and was therefore denied permission to board the Ranchi-Hyderabad flight. “The airport staff, in line with the safety guidelines, were forced to make a difficult decision as to whether this commotion would carry forward aboard the aircraft,” IndiGo said at the time, adding that its ground staff waited for the child to calm down till the last minute.
However, while investigating the incident -- which sparked outrage on social media, leading to an immediate intervention by civil aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia -- DGCA noted that more compassionate handling by airline could have calmed the child, and that the ground staff’s handling only ended up exacerbating the situation.
“The aim [of the new order] is to set clear rules and that stakeholders identify and term a passenger unruly, after strict analysis of his/ her behaviour,” the DGCA official cited above said, asking not to be named.
The CAR normally defines unruly behaviour as: “Acting in disruptive manner by using threatening, abusive or insulting words towards a crew member or other passengers; physically behaving in a threatening, abusive, insulting or disorderly manner towards a member of the crew or other passengers and/ or intentionally interfering with the performance of a crew member”.
The DGCA official said that in the May 7 incident, the child was quiet in the check-in and security clearance process. “It was only for 30 minutes out of around 130 minutes (that he spent in the airport) that the child was fidgety and cranky but was handled well by his parents. However, the airline decided to not allow boarding by declaring him to be unruly, which should have been avoided,” he added.
A second officer aware of the matter said that the investigation revealed that the child was tired and irritated due to long travel. “As against the claim that he was making noises before boarding, it was learnt that the child was calling out his parents who handled him well and made him calm down. The passenger did not cause trouble to any passenger or staff, yet the airline ground staff denied boarding to him,” he added.
The fine was imposed on May 28, when the DGCA declared its intention “to stave off such situations in future” and bring “necessary changes” that mandate a written consultation with the airport doctor on the state of health of the passengers and with the commander of the aircraft for their opinion before a call is taken on offloading an ill passenger.
Experts described the move as a welcome step. “This needs to be implemented well by all stakeholders. Specially abled people deserve special treatment and people need to be sensitised about them. We have miles to go in sensitizing people, this is just the beginning. Like in other countries, we need to be disabled friendly in all sectors,” said advocate Shirish Deshpande, chairman of Mumbai Grahak Panchayat, Asia’s largest consumer body.