Anger and probe after disabled teen not allowed to board flight in India

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IndiGo says the disabled teenager was visibly in panic before he was stopped from boarding the flight  (Getty Images)
IndiGo says the disabled teenager was visibly in panic before he was stopped from boarding the flight (Getty Images)

An Indian airline has sparked outrage after it refused to allow a disabled teenager and his family onboard a flight, forcing the country’s aviation minister and federal aviation regulatory body to intervene.

The incident took place on Saturday at the Ranchi city airport after a video and a post detailing it went viral on social media, angering users who singled out IndiGo airline’s “brute authority and power” for not allowing the teen and his parents on the flight.

On Monday, India’s federal civilian aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia condemned the incident, saying he was investigating the matter himself and promised appropriate action.

“There is zero tolerance towards such behaviour. No human being should have to go through this!”Mr Scindia tweeted.

In a statement on Monday, IndiGo said it stood by its actions, calling it a “difficult decision” and offered to purchase an “electric wheelchair” for the teenager as a token of their dedication.

The incident came to light after a co-passenger, Manisha Gupta, detailed the family’s ordeal in a Facebook post.

Ms Gupta said the teenager was deemed a “flight risk” because he looked visibly distressed after a car ride to the airport and multiple security checks.

“By the time he had gone through security check and reached the gate (almost an hour ahead of boarding), he seemed to be in the throes of hunger, thirst, anxiety and confusion,” Ms Gupta said in her post.

She said his parents were able to calm the teenager “with patience, some cajoling, some stern-ness, many hugs” while other passengers also gathered around to offer support to the couple.

When the teen caught the attention of an IndiGo manager, however, Ms Gupta said he warned the parents they would not let them take the flight if the child did not “quieten down and become ‘normal’”.

“Then we witnessed the full display of brute authority and power,” she said. “The IndiGo staff announced that the child would not be allowed to take the flight. That he was a risk to other passengers. That he would have to become ‘normal’, before he could be travel-worthy.”

His behaviour was compared to that of a “drunk passenger’s” who are deemed unfit for travel, she said, adding that fellow passengers opposed the staff and “a group of doctors travelling on the same flight” offered to provide full support to the family if any unexpected “health episode” were to occur mid air.

After almost 45 minutes of arguments, she said the flight, that was bound to Hyderabad, departed and left behind “three courageous Indians at the boarding terminal, who probably fight everyday for love, respect and dignity”.

“The security guard locked and secured the boarding gate with an iron padlet and chains, even as the mother pleaded from the other side of the glass door. The other passengers, including us, slowly dispersed to catch our own flights,” Ms Gupta added.

IndiGo chief executive Ronojoy Dutta commented on the incident on Monday: “Throughout the check-in and boarding process our intent of course was to carry the family, however, at the boarding area the teenager was visibly in panic.

“While providing courteous and compassionate service to our customers is of paramount importance to us, the airport staff, in line with the safety guidelines, were forced to make a difficult decision as to whether this commotion would carry forward aboard the aircraft,” a statement said.

Mr Dutta termed it the “best possible decision under difficult circumstances” and offered “sincere regrets to the affected family for the unfortunate experience”.

The country’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation said it was probing the matter and has sought a report from the airlines.

Around 2.21 per cent of India’s population has some kind of disability, according to government data, meaning 26.8 million people in India have physical or learning disabilities.

Despite the large number, the country lacks infrastructure to support disabled people.

In a similar incident in March, Kaushik Kumar Majumdar, a disabled man, alleged a pilot of national carrier Air India “humiliated” him and stopped him from boarding after he was asked to disconnect the battery of his wheelchair.

In yet another incident in March, an 80-year-old disabled woman was allegedly “strip-searched” at an airport after her hip implants triggered the metal detectors.

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