Friday, Sep 30, 2022

Physically Challenged Artist Denied Boarding At Bengaluru Airport

An award-winning, physically challenged artist was denied boarding her flight from Bengaluru to Kochi as she had a battery-operated wheelchair with her.

Alliance Airlines (Representational image)

 An award-winning physically challenged artist has claimed she was prohibited from boarding an Alliance Air flight from Bengaluru to Kochi recently as she was not willing to leave behind her battery-operated wheelchair. The only option the airline provided to Sarita Dwivedi was -- leave behind her wheelchair or book a flight on another airline, she claimed while talking to PTI on Monday.

Alliance Air did not even refund the amount of around Rs 8,000 she had spent on the tickets for herself and her friend who had come from Kochi to Bengaluru to take her here. She also accused a staff member of hostile behavior towards her. A statement from the airline on the issue is awaited.

Dwivedi said she had to subsequently shell out around Rs 14,000 for traveling on another private carrier to reach here along with her friend. The airline also carried her wheelchair in the plane's cargo without any hitch, she said. However, what transpired at the Alliance Air counter at Kempegowda International Airport on Saturday was a very bad experience, she said. On being asked whether she plans to sue the airline or take any other action, she said she was not sure how to go about that. Giving details of her ordeal, Dwivedi said she reached the check-in counter around 8 am, an hour ahead of the flight's departure, conforming to the one-hour rule.  

"On seeing me, the first thing the person from the airline said was that if you are traveling with a motorized wheelchair, you should come a little early. Then I got a little angry and said I was on time. I told him to get the scanning person to scan the wheelchair so that I can go. Again he said I was late. Then he said 'madam you cannot travel with the motorized wheelchair as it was battery operated."

On being asked whether the airline official gave a reason for not allowing the wheelchair, she stated "they said there are certain guidelines against it. But these guidelines are there with every airline." "They said that in view of the guidelines, I cannot take my wheelchair. So either I should leave it behind or I cannot travel on the flight. That is how they were talking to me. I felt so bad," she said. She had earlier tweeted about the incident, tagging Union Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiradita Scindia.

Asked if the airline offered any alternatives, she said, "they were not willing to do anything for me. I was ready to leave the wheelchair there, provided they could send it to my place in Kochi. I am not from Bangalore. I am a humble person. I did not want to argue, so I asked them what they can do to help me," she said. They said they cannot do anything but can refund her ticket amount. However, "they have not refunded the ticket amount... I had spent around Rs 8,000 on two tickets for myself and my friend.. even my friend could not travel as I was not allowed to travel. Not only did they not refund the amount, but I also had to, thereafter, spend around Rs 14,000 on two tickets to Kochi," on another airline, she claimed.

Dwivedi reached Kochi on Saturday afternoon instead of the morning as she had originally planned. When asked whether Alliance Air has got in touch with her subsequently to refund the amount, Dwivedi said, "Nothing. They have no facilities. They do not know how to talk to people. They just keep arguing and shouting. It was irritating."

For Dwivedi who had traveled the long distance from Indiranagar in Bangalore to the airport, everything had been "spoiled" by then and she subsequently demanded that the airline gave in writing why she was not allowed to board her flight. Personnel of the Airports Authority of India were present there and provided her with food and water and comforted her. They even tried to reason with the airline official but in vain. "So then I asked him to give me in writing why I missed my flight, why I was not allowed to board," she said.

Thereafter, for the sake of formality the official wrote down why she was not allowed to board and she also agreed to get a refund to book tickets on another flight as she was getting late, Dwivedi said. However, when the official realized she was going to fly on another airline, he said he would not give anything in writing and walked away with the paper, she claimed.

On how the experience was with the other carrier she later flew in, she said, "they never created an issue for me. They were quick and gave a very good service. My wheelchair has a dry battery. The rule is that you cannot travel with a wet battery on an airline... I just removed the battery supply and gave it to the airline and they put the wheelchair in the baggage," she said.

"I travel a lot and wherever I go, I have never faced this problem. This time the travel agent booked the tickets on Alliance Air. He did not mention that I was a differently-abled or a wheelchair user while booking the ticket. That is required if I need a wheelchair. But I carry my own wheelchair, so where is the need to put that (while booking a ticket)? she said.