Is the act of forcing wheelchair users sign indemnity forms before allowing them to board commercial flights a form of discrimination? That depends on who is answering the question. Some may ask why I am harping on this issue again. I am still annoyed, that is why. This entry is also inspired by a news article titled Airlines warned not to bar disabled in The Australian today. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Public Interest Advocacy Centre and disability groups in Australia are pursuing cases against airlines that imposes discriminatory policies against disabled air travellers.
I have flown with Japan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia. AirAsia is the only airlines that compels wheelchair users to sign an indemnity form before allowing them to board the aircraft. I have no complaints whatsoever against Japan Airlines. Their in-flight service was impeccable. I told them that I needed to go to the toilet at a certain time. The cabin crew came with an aisle chair right on the dot and assisted me to the toilet and back. I had several issues with Malaysia Airlines but they responded to my complaints politely when I wrote to them regarding the non-availability of an on-board aisle chair on my flight from Kuala Lumpur to Incheon and back. They even offered me one complimentary return ticket to any destination in Asia to make up for the shortfall in service which I declined.
AirAsia? The reply to the entry that I forwarded to them was disappointing. According to them the indemnity form is a requirement by their insurers and they are working to remove that condition imposed on wheelchair users. It was a premature move on my part to kick up a fuss when the process was still on-going. Nevertheless, I would like to reveal the double-standard that is being practiced. Members of BEAT who fly with AirAsia are encouraged to call up the management to make prior flight arrangements where they may not even be compelled to sign the indemnity form. Wheelchair users who are not part of BEAT and do not have access to AirAsia management do not have that privilege as evident by the other two wheelchair users whom I witnessed signing the forms at Kota Kinabalu. What kind of advocacy is that?
Although I was advised beforehand to make prior arrangements I did not because I wanted to experience for myself the kind of procedures that wheelchair users have to go through. Only then could I discover the kinks in the system. Having experienced it and revealed the bad experience to members of BEAT, I was blamed for causing irreparable damage to the group. I was expected to channel my grievances through selected people who would then create avenues for me to voice out my dissatisfaction. Apparently, the truth had to be filtered to make certain parties look good. See the difference in the RapidKL advocacy where nobody in BEAT reacted to the entries that were critical of the bus operator. That tells a lot, does it not? Harapkan pagar, pagar makan padi. That was why I left.
I shall not say more but allow my blogger friends cum disability advocates from around the world share with you their viewpoints on this issue of wheelchair users being compelled to sign indemnity forms.
My story – AirAsia Still Practices Discrimination Against Disabled People
Dr. Scott Rains – Picking on the Wrong Passenger: AirAsia Gambles on Discrimination
Eleanor Lisney – Air Asia Discrimination against disabled passsengers
Ivan Chew – Case of AirAsia and its provisions for People With Disabilities
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.
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.
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
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.