AirAsia Still Practices Discrimination Against Disabled People

Despite assurances by AirAsia CEO Datuk Tony Fernandes on July 20 and again on August 4 this year that disabled passengers will be treated with dignity, the airlines is still subjecting disabled passengers to discriminatory policies. I personally experienced this recently and I am not pleased at all. Even though I am part of a group that is working with AirAsia in addressing issues related to disabled passengers I am going to reveal this as I do not take lightly to being subjected to such practices.

Wuan and I flew from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu on October 27 without incident. We were allowed to board first. AirAsia’s ground crews carried me up the boarding stairs and into the plane. Wuan took the window seat. I was seated next to her in the middle. A young woman took the aisle seat. We had a wonderful flight and were all praises for AirAsia.

Peter Tan at LCCT-Kota Kinabalu International Airport
Not looking too pleased while waiting for an AirAsia staff confirm with
her boss whether I needed to sign the indemnity form or not.

Our journey back to Kuala Lumpur on October 30 was another story. I was required to sign an indemnity form to release AirAsia from all liabilities. I protested vehemently but was informed that if I refused I would not be allowed into the plane. When asked why I was not required to sign an indemnity form on the previous flight, the officer said she does not know but that was a requirement and I had to sign no matter what. I called up a staff from AirAsia Academy regarding this but she could not do anything.

I also witnessed several other disabled people on flights different from ours signing the indemnity form. As we did not want to miss our flight back, I relented but indicated in the indemnity form that I was signing under protest at being discriminated based on my condition. I paid the full fare like other passengers in the same flight but by signing the indemnity form, I was agreeing to give up my rights to hold AirAsia liable for damages, injuries or other claims even if those arose from the negligence of the airlines.

Peter Tan signing the AirAsia Release and Indemnity Form under protest
Signing the AirAsia Release and Indemnity Form under protest while two AirAsia staff looked on.

This in essence deprived me of the same rights as other non-disabled passengers. In AirAsia’s eyes, a disabled passenger is a person who has no rights whatsoever. By carrying me, I was supposed to be grateful. If I was injured, well, too bad. Additionally if I made AirAsia incur additional expenses due to their generosity in allowing me to fly with them I had to reimburse the amount. Where is justice in this?

The most preposterous part of this all was the last line which indicated that I signed the form on my own free will and was not under the influence of AirAsia or other parties. I was arm-twisted into signing it or risk missing my flight and AirAsia has the gall to add this nonsensical line which was truly adding insult to injury.

Release and Indemnity Form that AirAsia made all disabled passengers
wheelchair users sign at Kota Kinabalu International Airport before we
were allowed to board the aircraft.
Click on image for larger version.

That was not all. I was allowed to board first. One of the cabin crew indicated to the ground crews who carried me into the plane to place me on the bulkhead seat. I insisted on being seated on the second row. After kicking up a fuss, the cabin crew reluctantly agreed. I have poor balance. Bulkhead seats have extra space in front which does not give me anything to hold on to when the plane lands and decelerates. The sudden change in momentum will throw my body forward and may cause injury.

As we did on our flight from Kuala Lumpur, Wuan took the window seat while I sat next to her. The cabin crew insisted that I take the window seat. I told her that her colleagues in the previous flight and other airlines had no problems with me taking the seat of my choice. Still, she insisted that I take the window seat.

Instead of changing seats with Wuan, I took the aisle seat. The same cabin crew again approached me. She refused to listen to my explanations and was adamant that I take the window seat, citing that she had consulted the safety officer who was on-board. The reason was that I would be blocking other passengers’ path in case of an emergency evacuation if I was seated anywhere other than window seats. Not wanting to create a scene or being sent off the plane, I agreed to that too. Some disabled passengers are unable to move from the aisle seat to the window seat. I would like to see how AirAsia deals with that.

It is evident that AirAsia is not consistent in its policies with regards to disabled passengers. After those two incidents, I will never ever fly with AirAsia again unless they remove those discriminatory conditions imposed on disabled people no matter how attractive their air tickets are priced. I will not tolerate discrimination against disabled persons like those perpetuated by any party. Never mind the promises made by Datuk Fernandes. AirAsia is still practicing discrimination against disabled people. Most of all, AirAsia has ruined the beautiful memories I had in Kota Kinabalu on my honeymoon.

In December last year, Malaysia Airlines made Professor Yutaka Takamine sign an indemnity form before allowing him to fly from Japan to Malaysia to speak at the Real Access for Life (ReAL) Roundtable (Persidangan Akses untuk Kehidupan Sebenar) organised by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development. Professor Yutaka revealed this to Dato’ Seri Shahrizat who opened the conference. Malaysia Airlines later apologised to Professor Yutaka and indicated that it was a mistake and not a policy to compel disabled passengers to sign indemnity forms. AirAsia better take note of this.

Author: Peter Tan

Peter Gabriel Tan. Penangite residing in the Klang Valley. Blissfully married to Wuan. A LaSallian through and through. Minion to three cats. Wheelchair user since 1984. Columnist of Breaking Barriers with The Borneo Post. Principal Trainer at Peter Tan Training specialising in Disability Equality Training. This blog chronicles my life, thoughts and opinions. Connect with me on Twitter and Facebook.

20 thoughts on “AirAsia Still Practices Discrimination Against Disabled People”

  1. If the policy have been implemented by AirAsia, it should be practices by all AirAsia staff, cabin crew & hubs. This inconsistency is unacceptable, it shows the lack of communication and urgency in the matter. The tidak apa attitude, so typical. =/

    Believe me, sometimes it’s just not the disabled that’s being treated like kids. My frequent flying with AirAsia has opened my eyes on how they treat every single passenger and I’m not talking about all the staff per se. Only a hand full of this rotten apples.

    Lets smack them silly! 😀

    People irrespective of condition, colour or creed should be treated with dignity. We are not there yet.

  2. that why i said before, sabah is not disable friendly place. its time to educate and spread the awareness among the community. if that even possible … ^_^

    ps – shame on you airasia! and peter, do come again to sabah.. please don’t let this small things let you down on more beautiful scenery and places of sabah.

    Sabah may not be very accessible but I sure would like to visit again. 😀

  3. Sorry to hear that you were treated like that Peter. Hope anyone from AirAsia will take note of this and do something about it.

    They are aware of this. Thank you for your concern.

  4. Peter,
    did you hear anything about Air Asia coming to the UK? through Coventry Airport? This will never be tolerated here.
    I did not take an Air Asia flight to Bangkok last year because I heard they couldn’t guarantee me ground staff to get me off the plane!

    It was in the press that they are going to UK but I do not know where.

  5. If you stop flying , you actually quit and let them continue such practice
    and they most probably see nothing wrong with their practice as they see it as ‘all other pwds are signing it only this one is such a nuisance’
    so you have two task, one make it public – in all the mainstream media detailing all the rights that pwds sign away when they sign the form. that might make the other pwds pause the next time they are given such a form to sign
    also highlight to the airasia top guys with all the names of the staff that are involved in this case, so that they can all be sent for retraining on the (to them) – new method of handling travellers with disabilities. and in your letter to the editors , make sure you also tell other pwds who are faced with such treatment who they can write to to get the situation rectify. that should keep the guys at airasia busy and ensure better internal communication from now else they get more such ‘love letters’

    The staff was only following procedures. I do not blame them. I have forwarded the incident to AirAsia. In the meantime, I will fly with other airlines. I prefer to travel with less hassle and not having to go through such nonsense.

  6. I think the cabin staff have their procedures wrong.It only requires that non-ambulatory (disabled)passengers should not be seated in emergency exit seat rows.Their attendant/helper should occupy an aisle seat-thats all there is to it.That means the disabled pax can occupy another aisle seat providing his feet (if in plastercast for instance) does not protrude along the aisle.
    Indemnity forms are not required, only that the passenger be ascertained to be fit to fly and briefed on emergency procedures.These are generally accepted regulations followed by major airlines.
    This proves that a little to no knowledge can be harmful!!

    You should know better. Thank you for sharing. 😀

    Note: ex penang boy has clarified regarding seating here.

  7. I’m glad to see you are putting the word out about the way you were treated. It’s appalling. I know from experience that it can be difficult to speak up when it happens on a personal level (easier to advocate in general ways) – and applaud you for doing it. Best wishes.

    This is the least I can do to reveal what I was put through.

  8. I also had to sign the same form when I was flying AirAsia during my pregnancy. Worse, they wanted a doctor’s letter to prove that I was safe to fly. I asked why I should get the letter and the staff’s reply, in a nutshell, was if anything goes wrong, they can then refer to, read “put the blame on”, the doctor who wrote that letter.

    Welcome to my world.

  9. I noticed that the form says Pregnancy as well as Infant passengers. I was wondering when was this introduced because when my wife was pregnant last year in February with visible bump, she was not made to sign such form. Then we traveled on numerous occasions with our infant and was not asked to sign this form. So I should expect them to ask my wife to sign this form when we travel to Johor (Singapore) next month when she’s about 5 months pregnant right?

    You should read Clause 7.4 of AirAsia’s T&C.

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