SEPANG: Settle the problem fast.
This was Transport Minister Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy’s directive to AirAsia and Malaysia Airports Holding Berhad (MAHB) over complaints from wheelchair-bound passengers that the low-cost carrier had refused to accommodate them on its flights.
An unhappy Chan said he wanted solutions to the problem — quickly.
The government, he said, felt that all assistance to help disabled air travellers must be extended.
He was met at the launch of AirAsia’s Kuala Lumpur-Shenzhen flight at the Low-Cost Carrier Terminal here.
On Sunday, members of the Barrier-free Environment and Accessible Transport Group staged a peaceful protest at the terminal over the airline’s refusal to accept passengers requiring special assistance.
The group called on the airline to provide facilities for passengers who were immobile and those with limited mobility and for MAHB to ensure all new and old airports were equipped with facilities for the disabled.
AirAsia chief executive Datuk Tony Fernandes, meanwhile, denied that the airline had turned away wheelchair-bound passengers.
He said ground staff would take such passengers to the aircraft and physically carry them onboard.
“We do not even charge for this service and there is certainly no discrimination against them. All they have to do is to inform us in advance of the assistance they need.”
However, he said the airline could not cater to those with total immobility as it did not have the facilities available on full service airlines like suitable toilets, wider aisles and detachable seats.
He said if changes were to be made to cater to this group, it would mean a total reconfiguration of AirAsia planes.
Fernandes said as a budget airline, it had its limitations unlike full service carriers.
“Our position is comparable to hospitals that have various areas of specialisations like those treating heart diseases and bone problems. It is the same for AirAsia. We cannot cater to everyone… we have to be real on what we can or cannot do.”
Fernandes said AirAsia had discussed with MAHB the possibility of providing “ambulifts” to help ferry disabled passengers onboard.
But he said the plan would only be feasible if the airport operator was willing to reduce charges at the terminal.
Fernandes said another possible solution was to hire more staff to handle disabled passengers but the additional costs involved might lead to costlier fares.
Fernandes also announced that passengers aged above 65 no longer needed to pay additional fees to be given priority to board AirAsia planes.
On another matter, Chan said Malaysia Airlines had been directed to submit a full report immediately on the hundreds of passengers who were stranded and delayed at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Sunday.