Thursday, December 24, 2009

Deaf woman lost in Australian airport with no one to assist her

From The Courier Mail in Melbourne, Australia:

A deaf woman who boarded a flight in Melbourne was lost at Brisbane Airport for five hours and missed a connecting flight because Virgin Blue staff failed to assist her, despite assurances to her relatives they would do so.

Surge Singh booked the Dec. 21 flight for his 38-year-old aunt Saras Wati, who is also mute and unable to read or write English, to her homeland Fiji after being promised staff would make sure they helped her onto the connecting international flight in Brisbane.

But he was later told Virgin Blue staff did not know there was a special needs passenger on board and after a frantic search the woman was found in a distressed state several hours later by staff from another airline who noticed her wandering around the airport.

"It was a nightmare," Mr Singh said.

"My Mum and my sister were balling their eyes out all day on Monday."

Mr Singh said he rang Virgin Blue on Sunday night to ensure assistance would be provided.

He checked his aunt in at 4.30am on Monday morning and was again assured by the check-in staff and cabin crew that she would be looked after.

But just after 10am he received a call from Pacific Blue saying thepassenger did not board the connecting flight to Nadi in Fiji.

Virgin Blue staff did not contact him until around midday.

When Mr Singh asked who they were looking for they said "a hearing impaired person".

"I said: 'what does a hearing impaired person look like?' and described what she was wearing," Mr Singh said.

"They said she must have run off the plane without telling anyone."

Mr Singh then called police, but received a phonecall around 2pm saying Ms Wati had been found by staff from another airline and taken to the Pacific Blue counter after she showed them her itinerary.

Fortunately a Pacific Blue member who spoke Hindi, which Ms Wati can lip read, offered to look after her overnight and she flew back to Fiji the next day.

"My biggest frustration was Virgin Blue," Mr Singh said.

"They basically said they couldn't do anything more (to find her).

"At one stage they tried to blame it back on me. Someone from Pacific Blue told me that Virgin Blue didn't know there was a special needs person on the plane.

"It was very traumatic for her. When she got home she told family she knew she was lost but couldn't do anything."

Mr Singh has made an official complaint via Virgin Blue's website and believes the airline should be held accountable.

Virgin Blue is being sought for comment.