Sunday August 5, 2007
By V.P. SUJATA
SEPANG: Low-cost carrier AirAsia will spend RM6mil to provide ambulifts and aisle chairs for wheelchair-bound passengers.
The new facilities are expected to be ready in three months and there will be no additional cost to disabled passengers.
The carrier has also gone one step further by promising to hire disabled people to provide services to disabled passengers, as they would understand their needs better. Also in the works are disabled call centres via its website.
These are some of the carrier’s immediate plans in response to protests by the disabled about inadequate facilities.
AirAsia chief executive officer Datuk Tony Fernandes said the carrier initially wanted Malaysia Airports Bhd (MAB) to provide the facilities but decided later that the carrier could do it on its own for the sake of its loyal passengers.
Discussions with MAB led to nowhere, he said, but solutions were found after discussions with members of Barrier-Free Environment And Accessible Transport Group (BEAT), a coalition of 18 non-governmental organisations for the disabled which led the protest last month.
The ambulifts will be placed at the carrier’s hub here and another in Kota Kinabalu. Prior to this, the carrier’s staff had to physically carry disabled people on board.
Aisle wheelchairs will be used to push disabled passengers to their seats.
Fernandes said that BEAT had offered to train AirAsia cabin crew and call centre staff to handle disabled guests.
He said seven disabled people would be employed as guest service officers and to help man disabled call centres.
For totally immobile passengers, he said facilities were inadequate but assured them that in emergencies, AirAsia engineers would be called in to remove some seats to enable the passenger to lie flat.
BEAT co-ordinator Christine Lee said AirAsia’s move benefited the disabled as well as the carrier because families with disabled members previously had to choose other airlines due to the lack of facilities.
She thanked Transport Minister Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy for his immediate attention and intervention in the matter.
Describing Fernandes as a “CEO with a difference”, Lee said AirAsia admitted its fault and resolved the matter very fast.
She said the disabled community would extend its support to the low-cost carrier.