An airline here has been ordered to pay €2,000 compensation to a disabled woman for the unnecessary humiliation and discomfort caused to her when she had no choice but to climb the steps to an aircraft.
he woman has muscular dystrophy and requires the use of a walking aid but had to mount the steps of the aircraft when no wheelchair lift was made available to her.
The woman took an equal status discrimination case to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) against two airlines involved in operating the air-link from Ireland to an unnamed city in England.
In her findings concerning the passenger’s complaint against one of the airlines, WRC adjudication officer Catherine Byrne found the airline that took the woman’s booking failed to do all that was reasonable to ensure she received the service she requested.
Ms Byrne said this failure caused the woman “unnecessary distress, inconvenience and humiliation”.
She found that the woman “was discriminated against on the ground of her disability” and her complaint was “well founded”.
Ms Byrne also ordered the airline put in place a process to check that, at boarding and disembarking, where a passenger with a disability or reduced mobility has requested assistance, that such assistance is provided.
In the woman’s online booking she indicated she required wheelchair assistance because she has difficulty walking long distances and cannot manage the aircraft steps.
A wheelchair lift was provided for the airline for her outbound flight but no lift was provided for her return flight on December 16, 2019, and, as a result, the complainant said she “had no choice but to climb the steep steps on to the plane”.
The woman was assisted by a member of the ground crew, a minibus driver, who pushed her up the steps and helped her to lift her legs, while she supported herself by clinging on to the rails.
After getting to her seat on the aircraft, the woman wrote an email to the airline complaining about her experience.
In the email presented to the WRC hearing, she stated: “To say I was deeply humiliated by this ordeal would be a gross understatement.”
She said two members of the cabin crew witnessed all this from the top of the steps and “despite not coming to my aid, they expressed their shock at what they had witnessed”.
The woman added: “My legs were weak and throbbing when I got up the steps and my back ached also. I’m sitting on the plane writing this at the moment and I honestly am so upset.”
She said the two air hostesses on the plane “were very kind and compassionate. They promised me a lift in Dublin, which was provided”.
The following day, the airline, which took the booking, replied to apologise.
The airline letter stated: “We have always been conscious of the importance of providing a reliable service and we expect the highest level of care from our handling agents. I am really sorry of not meeting your expectation by not being able to use the service that you specifically requested.”
The company employed to provide wheelchair lifts at the airport also apologised to the woman, saying a communication error led to her not receiving the required assistance.
The woman told the WRC that her experience was “point blank discrimination and humiliation”.
She alleged that one crew member was aware of the request for special assistance, but is alleged to have told the woman because there were “only two or three steps she should be able to manage”.
The airline did not attend the hearing.
Source: Irish News