Etihad Airways kicks woman off plane for being disabled
JAKARTA, Indonesia (UPDATED) — "I wrote this not because of revenge nor anger, but to ensure no disabled person will be mistreated like what I experienced," Dwi Ariyani, an Indonesian passenger who was not allowed to fly for using a wheelchair, said in an anti-discrimination petition she created online.
Ariyani planned to fly from Jakarta to Geneva last Saturday, April 2 to attend the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but was forced to cancel because Etihad Airways refused to let her fly. She called the incident "ironic."
She narrated her experience in her petition in Bahasa Indonesia, saying "upon check-in at the Etihad counter before boarding a plane to Geneva from Jakarta, I told the clerk check-in that I need a special wheelchair to get into the aircraft cabin. I always do that before flying. During boarding, I was escorted by ground staff officers."
But she said the problem started 20 minutes after she sat on the plane.
"Crew members came and drilled me with some questions, which I found degrading for disabled people. For example, he asked if I am able to evacuate myself in an emergency. I said, 'I need help to evacuate.'"
She said the concierge Airport Operation Officer "Mr. Abrar" then came and again asked her if she could walk.
When he realized she would need help walking, Ariyani recalled, "he said, according to the crew cabin, I had to get off the plane because I had no companion."
"I was surprised by the statement because usually there is no problem when I travel alone. I tried to explain to the head of the crew that it was not my first time to fly by myself. But he still insisted I should get off the plane because they cannot evacuate me themselves."
She went on, "they argued that this is in Etihad flight rules and should be read by prospective passengers. But when I read it, there is no ban against the disabled."
The online petition urged the Ministry of Transportation to protect disabled passengers from being discriminated against by airlines. She also hoped the authorities would create related policies to end any discrimination against handicapped people while using transportation.
Ariyani's petition has been signed by nearly 26,000 people as of Thursday afternoon, April 7.
Also on Thursday, the airline responded to the accusation of discrimination.
"We apologize sincerely and unreservedly for the distress and inconvenience Ms Ariyani experienced when asked to disembark a flight from Jakarta to Geneva this week," the statement said.
"We did not follow the normal procedure for passengers with wheelchairs. An internal investigation has been carried out and we will take appropriate action to avoid similar mistakes in the future."
On Friday, it sent another statement to "re-affirm [its] apology."
The statement said Etihad Airways’ guest relations executives "have been in regular contact with Ms Ariyani since the incident earlier this week, when she was mistakenly asked to disembark a Jakarta-Geneva flight."
"In addition to our apology and our offer of alternative travel arrangements and compensation, we have arranged for senior members of our guest relations and local management teams to visit Ms Ariyani, which will happen over the next few days. We want to extend a personal apology, as well as seeking input from Ms Ariyani into how we can ensure such an incident does not happen again in future," it said.
Aside from the internal investigation, it also said Etihad is "creating a task force within the airline to review our policies and procedures in relation to guests with disabilities. This taskforce will seek advice from stakeholders and organisations in our key markets around the world."
It added, "Etihad Airways has carried more than 300,000 guests with disabilities. We have a strict policy of non-discrimination and we aim to provide a warm welcome to every one of our guests."
What do you think about the incident? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. —Rappler.com