Thursday, September 8, 2011

In India, GoAir prevents blind woman, her two kids from boarding flight

From the Mumbai Mirror:

Staff told Gujarat resident Shabnam Mansuri that in case of an emergency, in-flight staff would find it difficult to take care of her and the children; Mansuri finally booked a seat on Jet Airways.

A 35-yr-old visually challenged woman, who was scheduled to fly from Mumbai to Ahmedabad by a GoAir flight on Monday morning, was stopped from boarding the aircraft by the airline staffers at the domestic terminal of Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport. The reason? The lady is visually challenged and was with her two sons aged nine and two years

The lady, Shabnam Mansuri, was in the city with her kids to meet her husband Dr Samir Mansuri, an ayurveda practitioner based in Oshiwara, Andheri (West).

“Seems humanity doesn’t exist,” said Shabnam, who runs a non-profit organisation, Blinds Dream, that works to empower visually challenged persons.

The Mansuris say that this is not the first time their were flying by GoAir. In fact, they had informed the airlines about Shabnam’s disability and that she was travelling with children. The three had even cleared the security checks

Her husband, Dr Mansuri, told Mumbai Mirror the tickets for his wife and children had been booked well in advance on September 2. “At the time of booking, we informed that the passenger is a blind lady travelling with two children,” said Dr Mansuri, adding that they had informed the booking agent to request for an escort citing disability.

However, a day prior to the flight, Dr Mansuri received a call from the agent, saying that the flight was being cancelled. “I sensed something amiss. I had a heated argument with the agent and said that we would anyway go to the airport and check if the flight was being cancelled,” he said.

Shabnam was scheduled to attend an important meeting on September 5 in connection with a show the organisation is organising.

The next day, Shabnam’s friend, Rajal dropped her off at the airport. “We reached by 6.30 am - well on time,” said Shabnam, who found her way through the entire procedure of handing over her luggage, getting the boarding pass and clearing security check.

“Just as the kids and I were about to board the plane, a Go Air employee by the name of Smruti stopped me and said I could not get on board with the kids as I am blind,” said Shabnam. “I told her it wasn’t the first time I was travelling, but she refused to listen. Despite offering to sign the ‘responsibility’ form, I was not allowed.”

Shabnam made the crew members speak to her husband, who also requested that his she be allowed on board.

Dr Mansuri said he even told the crew members over phone that Shabnam would carry the younger boy in her arms while the older child would help her navigate by holding her hand.

“I told them that my nine-year-old son is capable of helping his mother and Shabnam would take her seat without inconveniencing other passengers,” said Dr Mansuri.

Shabnam said that since eight years she has been flying and has never faced any problem. “About four or five years ago, I had taken a GoAir flight to Mumbai and at that time nobody stopped me.”

Shabbam said that there’s no law that prevents a blind person from boarding an aircraft with his/her kids. “Is this how they airline treat you in such a manner?” asked a let-down Shabnam.

“Left with no choice, I bought a Jet Air ticket for the same evening. Jet Air staffers were very co-operative and helpful. The even got me a taxi so I could go back home to Andheri as there was a gap of nearly 12 hours for the flight,” she said.

The airline has now assured the passengers that it will refund the fare. “I’m not sure we want that,” said Shabnam. Dr Mansuri echoed the view. “I do not want the money. We just wanted to be treated well, without being forced to realise time and again the disability we have,” he said.

A GoAir spokesperson said that Shabnam Mansuri checked in with her children (one an infant). Had the visually challenged lady been travelling alone, GoAir could have readily accepted her and facilitated her journey. However, as she was travelling with two children, one an infant, an able-bodied adult was essential for travel along with the lady and her children to look after the children in case of an emergency.

The matter was explained at the boarding gate and the lady was comforted. Her relative returned and escorted the three Mansuris back. Ms.Mansuri’s tickets were fully refunded. The decision to not allow travel was taken only in the interest of Ms Mansuri and her children’s safety. There was no intent to discriminate, or cause any discomfort.