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3 months for airlines to fulfil disabled fliers’ rights

New Delhi, March 12: The Centre has issued rules to ensure that airlines do not prevent any differently-abled passenger from flying.

Civil aviation regulator DGCA has asked all airlines and airports to provide required facilities and assistance to meet the needs of disabled fliers and upload related information on their websites within three months.

After years of appeals by NGOs as well as some government agencies, the DGCA had released on February 28 a report with a set of compulsory guidelines for all carriers flying in India. The government has now come out with a set of civil aviation requirements (CAR), which formally activates the process.

The guidelines allow guide dogs, a mode of assistance widely adopted in western countries.

Till now, airlines had individual set of guidelines on dealing with differently-abled passengers. Many a time, such passengers were either harassed or, in some cases, not allowed to fly by airlines on one pretext or the other.

“No airline shall refuse to carry persons with disability or reduced mobility and their assistive aids/devices, escorts and guide dogs, including their presence in the cabin, provided such persons or their representatives, at the time of booking, inform the airline of their requirements,” the DGCA report said.

The DGCA has said that airlines need to obtain necessary information about the specific requirements of such passengers at the time of ticketing, which could be through online booking process or call centres. “Once the ticket is confirmed, no further enquires shall be made,” it said.

The airlines shall incorporate appropriate provisions on their websites within three months from the date of issue of the CAR, so that while making bookings, passengers with disability have the option to select the required facilities, which he/she will require during the journey, it added.

Listing instructions on guide dogs, the DGCA said that airlines should develop procedures for carriage of guide dogs, if required, inside the cabin.

“The guide dogs may be permitted in the cabin, subject to the condition that they are properly trained, remain on the floor at the passenger’s feet, properly harnessed and vaccinated. Passengers carrying guide dogs shall be required to produce a written proof to the airlines that their guide dog has been trained from an appropriate institution, vaccinated and medicated,” the statement said.

Airlines also have been asked to develop emergency evacuation procedures and handling of persons with disability or reduced mobility and include the information in their safety and emergency procedures (SEP) manual.

The DGCA said that it would, however, be the responsibility of the persons with disability or reduced mobility to notify their needs at least 48 hours before the scheduled time of departure so that the airline can make necessary arrangements. The arrangements may include the nature and level of special assistance required while embarking, disembarking and on board the flight.

According to the aviation regulator, the airlines as well as airport operators need to conduct training programmes for their staff engaged in passenger handling for sensitisation and developing awareness for assisting persons with disability or reduced mobility and to ensure that the staff are well-briefed on their legal responsibilities.

“The contents and duration of the training programme shall be in accordance with the guidelines issued by the department of disability affairs, the ministry of social justice and empowerment,” the DGCA added.

HOW MUCH WILL BE FOLLOWED?

Jeeja Ghosh (File picture)

Jeeja Ghosh, who was compelled to get off a flight in 2012, said on Wednesday: “Rules have been framed but how much will be followed, I am not sure.”

The disability activist who has travelled the world was forced off a Goa-bound SpiceJet flight at Calcutta airport in February 2012 because she suffers from cerebral palsy. “The incident still haunts me.

It was insensitive on the part of the airline to do such a thing,” she said.

She was forced to disembark minutes before take-off because the pilot decided she could not travel alone. The airline had apologised but Ghosh was traumatised and took ill.

Ghosh moved the Supreme Court and a consumer forum in Calcutta against the airline and the cases are pending.

In 2011, Kingfisher Airlines had asked Shabnam Mansur, 35, and her two sons, aged seven and one-and-a-half years, to get off a Goa-bound flight at Ahmedabad airport as the crew thought she could not travel with two kids because she was visually challenged.