Airlines, Indemnity Forms And Disability Advocates

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

Airlines warned not to bar disabled: The Australian – December 11, 2007

Airlines warned not to bar disabled

Steve Creedy, Aviation writer | December 11, 2007

LOW-COST carriers have been warned not to attempt to cut costs by discriminating against the disabled after two airlines recently sought exemptions from laws designed to grant handicapped travellers equal access to transport.

Singapore-backed Tiger Airways has applied to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission for an exemption to the Disability Act so it cantemporarily refuse to carry some passengers with limited mobility.

It says it needs to do this because it does not have the equipment to get wheelchair-bound people safely on to its Airbus A320 jets.

Disability groups are also fighting a move by Australia’s biggest independent regional carrier, Regional Express (Rex), to introduce restrictions they say will make flying harder for disabled people in the bush.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre is pursuing court action against Virgin Blue to head off moves to require some people with disabilities to buy a second ticket for a carer if they want to travel.

“It’s fine for low-cost or budget airlines to reduce services,” human rights commissioner Graeme Innes said yesterday. “But not carrying passengers with disabilities can’t be part of those reductions and to do so is against the law.

“As commissioner, I intend to ensure wherever I can that airlines meet their obligations to all passengers, not just passengers without disabilities.”

Tiger is offering affected passengers a full refund and says the problem stems from the inability of its third-party ground handler to obtain special hydraulic devices capable of lifting wheelchairs on to planes. It did not expect the lifters to be available at all destinations until the end of February.

Tiger’s application comes as a report, due to be released this week by the PIAC, says an analysis of the experiences of 110 airline passengers demonstrates a systemic failure of legislation introduced in 2002 to set standards for disabled access to public transport.

The report finds recent development and application of airline policy, and changes to baggage handling, have made disabled access more difficult, particularly for people with motorised or bigger wheelchairs.

“Some passengers who travelled independently for many years now find themselves barred from travel or facing the imposition of unreasonable conditions,” it says.

On-Board Aisle Chair

Once seated inside the aircraft, the movement of passengers with mobility impairments are extremely restricted. The few times that such passengers need to move around is to go to the toilet. An on-board aisle chair is used for this purpose. The on-board aisle chair is a narrow high-backed chair with small wheels. It is lightweight and foldable. When folded, it is very compact and fits into the overhead compartment of the aircraft. The aisle chair has straps for securing the chest, hip and ankles. This is to ensure that users with poor postural balance do not fall off the chair or get their limbs entangled in the chair or other things along the aisle. Cabin crews will usually assist to push the aisle chair to the toilet and back. Disabled persons who require the use of an on-board aisle chair should inform the airlines in advance as not all aircrafts are equipped with one.

Model of the aisle chair that AirAsia will equip all its aircrafts with
Aisle chair that AirAsia displayed during a press conference on August 4, 2007.
The budget airlines announced that all its aircrafts will have aisle chairs.
Photo by Wuan.

Related entry:
Aircraft Boarding Chair
AirAsia – Aisle Chair In Every Aircraft