Denied boarding by airline over battery-run wheelchair, claims physically challenged artist

Representational image
Representational image. Photo: VGstockstudio/Shutterstock

Kochi: An award-winning physically challenged artist claims that she was prohibited from boarding an Alliance Air flight from Bengaluru to Kochi recently, as she was not willing to leave behind her battery-operated wheelchair.

The only option the airline provided to Sarita Dwivedi was to leave behind her wheelchair or book flight on another airline, she claimed while talking to PTI on Monday.

Alliance Air apparently has not yet refunded the amount of around Rs 8,000, which she had spent on the tickets for herself and her friend who had come from Kochi to Bengaluru to help her out, either. She also accuses a staff member of hostile behaviour towards her. A statement from the airline on the issue is still awaited.

Dwivedi said she had to subsequently shell out around Rs 14,000 for traveling on another private carrier to reach Kochi along with her friend. The airline she flew in also carried her wheelchair in the plane's cargo without any hitch, she said. “I had a very bad experience at the Alliance Air counter at the Kempegowda International Airport on Saturday,” says Sarita.

Giving details of her ordeal, Dwivedi says she reached the check-in counter around 8 am, an hour ahead of the flight's departure, conforming to the one-hour rule.

"On seeing me, the first thing the person from the airline said was that if I am traveling with a motorised wheelchair, I should come a little early. Then I got little angry and said that I was on time. I asked him to scan my wheelchair and that's when he said, 'Madam you cannot travel with the motorised wheelchair as it is battery operated'.”

On being asked whether the airline official gave a reason for not allowing the wheelchair, she states, "They said there are certain guidelines against it and so, I could not take my wheelchair along. So, either I had to leave it behind or I can't fly. That is how they were talking to me. I felt bad," she says.

She had earlier tweeted about the incident, tagging Union Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiradita Scindia.

Apparently, the airline did not offer alternative solutions either. "They were not willing to do anything for me. I was ready to leave the wheelchair there, provided they could send it to my place in Kochi. I am not from Bangalore. I did not want to argue, so I eventually asked them what they can do to help me," she says.

They said later that they could just refund her ticket amount.

However, "They have not done that yet, either. I had spent around Rs 8,000 on two tickets for myself and my friend.. even my friend could not travel as I was not allowed to travel. Not only did they not refund the amount, I had to, thereafter, spend around Rs 14,000 on two tickets to Kochi," she explains.

Dwivedi reached Kochi on Saturday afternoon instead of the morning as she had originally planned.

Personnel of the Airports Authority of India were apparently present during the incident and provided her with food and comforted her. “They even tried to reason with the airline official, but in vain. Then I asked the airline official to give me in writing why I was not allowed to board" she says.

Thereafter, for the sake of formality the official wrote down why she was not allowed to board and she also agreed to receive a refund to book tickets on another flight as she was getting late, Dwivedi says. However, when the official realised she was going to fly on another airline, he said he would not give anything in writing and walked away with the paper, she claims .

On how the experience was with the other carrier she later flew in, she says, "They never created any issue for me. They were quick and gave a very good service. My wheelchair has a dry battery. The rule is that you cannot travel with a wet battery on an airline. I just removed the battery supply and gave it to the airline and they put the wheelchair in the baggage.” She says she has never faced a similar problem anywhere she has traveled to, before. “This time, the travel agent booked the tickets on Alliance Air. He did not mention that I was differently-abled or wheelchair user while booking the ticket, as that was required only if I needed a wheelchair. But I carry my own,so where is the need to put that (while booking a ticket) in?" she asks, adding, “Even otherwise, imagine if I am traveling with a prosthesis and all of a sudden something happens to me and I cannot walk. I will definitely bring a wheelchair without any information. The airline just proved to be unprofessional enough to be unsure on how to handle such situations.”

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