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.
AirAsia sets aside RM6 million for facilities catering to the disabled
By : Hamidah Atan
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AirAsia is living up to its tagline “Now Everyone Can Fly” with the introduction of several facilities for disabled travellers.
Yesterday, its chief executive Datuk Tony Fernandes launched the facilities, including ambu-lifts and special aisle wheelchairs, for passengers requiring assistance at its low-cost carrier terminal (LCCT) near here.
The budget airline had set aside RM6 million for the purchase of the equipment.
For a start, two ambu-lifts will be used at its terminals in Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu to get the disabled into its planes without having to be carried by ground staff.
Other terminals will feature similar amenities within four months while all new planes will be equipped with the aisle wheelchairs so that the disabled can move around on board.
As a mark of further co-operation between AirAsia and the disabled community, AirAsia will also hire handicapped people to work at its guest services counters and call centres.
Its website will also be upgraded so that the disabled can use it.
“What we can do for them, we will do and what we cannot do, we will pass to the Malaysia Airports Holding Berhad (MAHB). We will try to do our best for them.
“For total immobile passengers, we are working with airbus engineers so that they can be helped. However, it is important that they give us at least a three-hour notice so that we can change the seats for them,” Fernandes said after launching the facilities together with Barrier-Free Environment And Accessible Transport Group (Beat) members, including its coordinator Christine Lee and her assistant Peter Tan.
Transport Minister Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy recently issued a directive to AirAsia and MAHB over complaints from wheelchair-bound passengers that the low-cost carrier had refused to accommodate them on its flights.
On June 15, Beat members had staged a protest at the terminal over the airline’s refusal to accept passengers requiring special assistance.
The group had called on the airline to provide facilities for passengers who were immobile and those with limited mobility and for MAHB to ensure all existing and new airports were equipped with facilities for the disabled.
Fernandes had denied that the airline had turned away wheelchair-bound passengers, saying ground staff would take such passengers to the aircraft and carry them on board.
He had said they were not even charged and there was certainly no discrimination against them as all they had to do was to inform AirAsia in advance of the assistance they needed.
Meanwhile, Fernandes said AirAsia has submitted a request to the government requesting limited access into Singapore, that being two flights a day.
“What is good for Malaysia is not protection. Since AirAsia has come along, Malaysia Airlines (MAS) has got a lot better.
“My view on protection is old-fashioned,” he said in response to the statement by MAS managing director Datuk Idris Jala that MAS was against the idea of allowing limited flights by low-cost carriers to Singapore, saying that MAS needed time to get back on its feet.