In a horrific incident, a 75-year-old woman on a wheelchair and her daughter were harassed by the pilot of a Bengaluru-bound Indigo flight on Monday, calling the attention of netizens as well as aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri to the potential risk of abuse persons with disabilities are liable to face in public and commercial transport.
According to Supriya Unni Nair, a journalist who was travelling from Chennai on an IndiGo flight requested for wheelchair assistance for her septuagenarian mother who has difficulty walking. However, the pilot of the flight by the name of Jaykrishna allegedly "harassed, threatened and prevented" the duo from de-boarding the flight. He even threatened to get them arrested. All because the women had requested a wheelchair.
Taking to Twitter, Nair wrote a long thread tagging Indigo and narrating the incident. According to her, the flight was running late. After it landed, Nair who always calls for assistance while travelling with her mother, tried doing the same by calling the assistance bell. When no response came, Nair said she walked up to the crew inside the plane.
.@IndiGo6E I always ask for wheelchair beforehand for my mom & remind staff when we land. Staff on all airlines have always been helpful. Our flight was late & when we landed at 9:15 I tried calling the assistance bell & when the crew didint respond I walked up for help.— Sun☀️Tweets (@SupriyaUnniNair) January 13, 2020
"She claimed we don't have access to a wheelchair when it was clearly printed on the ticket. When I pointed this out to her, the captain came barging out and yells at me for pressing the assistance button and annoying him and his crew,' Nair wrote. After an altercation, the ground-staff in charge of handling the wheelchair assistance arrived but the pilot allegedly prevented the Nair and her mother from disembarking the flight. He also hurled abuses at Nair and went on threaten her with a night in jail, claiming he would get the CEO down and together "they" would teach her some manners.
.@IndiGo6E -He prevents the wheelchair people from taking my mom out of the aircraft threatening us that he will ensure we are detained and spend a night in jail.— Sun☀️Tweets (@SupriyaUnniNair) January 13, 2020
.@IndiGo6E Disbelievingly i ask him whether he is serious? Shut up . Who do you think I am? I'll get my CEO to make sure you spend a night in jail, "we" will teach you some manners, he says.— Sun☀️Tweets (@SupriyaUnniNair) January 13, 2020
Meanwhile, other ground staff and members of security forced arrived at the flight in which the captain had held the two captive. Despite their efforts, the abusive captain's rants would not end. He repeatedly threatened Nair and her mother with jail and refused to let them out.
Once out, Nair wrote a complaint and left but not before the Jaykrishna hurled further insults at her and her mother and threatened police action, once again throwing his weight on the top brass at Indigo. According to Nair, Jaykrishna said that they at IndiGo including him were not slaves and that Nair and her mother did not own the flight because they bought tickets.
.@IndiGo6E Once we reach the arrival lounge, we are held back again. Jayakrishna is standing there ranting that "we" are not slaves, threatening me with dire consuquences if I post about this on social media.— Sun☀️Tweets (@SupriyaUnniNair) January 13, 2020
The incident has left Nair and her mother shaken. Nevertheless, she did not forget to mention her thanks to ground staff of IndiGo for being supportive throughout the incident.
"The security folks and the Indigo ground staff meanwhile come and try and get us off the flight. We reach the bus and the "captain" is meanwhile ranting and stops it from moving forward. We are the only ones on the bus and its getting late for mom's meds," she wrote.
After Unni's tweets, with Union Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri saying the airline has "off-rostered" the pilot following the incident.
I requested my office to contact @IndiGo6E as soon as I saw the tweet by Ms @SupriyaUnniNair about the pilot's behaviour with her & her 75 yr old mother in need of wheelchair assistance. The airline has informed @MoCA_GoI that the pilot has been off-rostered pending full enquiry https://t.co/NVkjr6ubti— Hardeep Singh Puri (@HardeepSPuri) January 14, 2020
This is not the first time that a person with disability has been denied services on board a flight in India. In December 2017, Air India crew caused controversy when one of its ground staff members refused service to a a researcher on a wheelchair. Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) researcher Kaushik Majumdar was harassed by ground staff at the Bengaluru airport enroute to Kolkata just before boarding when he was told that all the mechanical wires on his wheelchair would have to be disconnected for him to be able to board, despite him telling them it would be impossible for him or anyone else to reattach them upon landing.