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.
The woman has muscular dystrophy and requires the use of a walking aid and 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 that the airline – which took the woman’s booking – failed to do all that was reasonable to ensure that the woman received the service that she requested.
Ms Byrne stated that this failure caused her “unnecessary distress, inconvenience and humiliation”.
Ms Byrne found that the woman “was discriminated against on the ground of her disability” and her complaint “is well-founded”.
Ms Byrne has also ordered that 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 she 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 16th 2019.
As a result, the complainant said that 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 stated that 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 like 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 stated that 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 letter added: “Your feedback on how difficult the situation you endured during your travel with us is duly noted and I can assure you that we are always working to minimise the inconvenience.”
Levels of service
The company employed to provide wheelchair lifts at the airport also apologised to the woman stating that a communication error led to her not receiving the required assistance.
The company’s customer relations official said that “this level of service falls very short of the service we expect to deliver”.
The woman told the WRC that her experience was “point-blank discrimination and humiliation”.
The woman 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.