An award-winning physically challenged artist has claimed 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 a flight on another airline, she claimed while talking to PTI on Monday, June 20.
Alliance Air did not even refund the amount of around INR 8,000 she had spent on the tickets for herself and her friend who had come from Kochi to Bengaluru to take her here. She also accused a staff member of hostile behaviour towards her. A statement from the airline on the issue was awaited.
Dwivedi said she had to subsequently shell out around INR 14,000 for travelling on another private carrier to reach here along with her friend.
The airline also carried her wheelchair in the plane’s cargo without any hitch, she said. However, what transpired at the Alliance Air counter at Kempegowda International Airport on Saturday, June 18 was a very bad experience, she said.
On being asked whether she plans to sue the airline or take any other action, she said she was not sure how to go about that. Giving details of her ordeal, Dwivedi said 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 you are travelling with a motorised wheelchair, you should come a little early. Then I got a little angry and said I was on time. I told him to get the scanning person to scan the wheelchair so that I can go. Again he said I was late. Then he said – madam you cannot travel with the motorised wheelchair as it was battery operated.”
On being asked whether the airline official gave a reason for not allowing the wheelchair, she stated “they said there are certain guidelines against it. But these guidelines are there with every airline.”
“They said that given the guidelines, I cannot take my wheelchair. So either I should leave it behind or I cannot travel on the flight. That is how they were talking to me. I felt so bad,” she said.
She had earlier tweeted about the incident, tagging Union Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiradita Scindia. Asked if the airline offered any alternatives, she said, “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 am a humble person. I did not want to argue, so I asked them what they can do to help me,” she said.
They said they cannot do anything but can refund her ticket amount. However, “they have not refunded the ticket amount… I had spent around INR 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, but I also had to, thereafter, spend around INR 14,000 on two tickets to Kochi on another airline,” she claimed.
Dwivedi reached Kochi on Saturday, June 18 afternoon instead of the morning as she had originally planned. When asked whether Alliance Air has got in touch with her subsequently to refund the amount, Dwivedi said, “Nothing. They have no facilities. They do not know how to talk to people. They just keep arguing and shouting. It was irritating.”
She claimed initially the airline did not allow them to get their boarding passes and then they said that their manager was coming and to wait for him as after he arrives, then only they can do anything. After a long wait, a person came who was a senior supervisor in Alliance Air and not the manager.
“So I asked the person at the counter who had stopped me from boarding earlier as to whether this was the same person he spoke about. But he did not give a proper response.”
She said the man started shouting at her that he was the responsible person and that he would be making the decisions in the absence of the manager who was not here. Dwivedi said she asked him why she was made to wait so long at the airport if the manager was not going to come.
“I, thereafter, calmly asked them to send me to Kochi. I said I do not want a refund… they said we cannot do that and that I can get a refund only. They said I should book a flight on another airline. That is how they replied. Then they said that I could travel by their airline, but the wheelchair cannot be taken along,” she added.
For Dwivedi who had travelled the long distance from Indiranagar in Bangalore to the airport, everything had been “spoiled” by then and she subsequently demanded that the airline gave in writing why she was not allowed to board her flight.
“After travelling so far alone and managing everything physically, mentally and financially, they spoiled everything for me. For a person like me, it is difficult. It is in my nature that I speak softly to people and I was speaking calmly to them at the airport to find a solution. They are the ones who started arguing and then shouting at me,” she alleged.
Personnel of the Airports Authority of India were present there and provided her with food and water and comforted her. They even tried to reason with the airline official but in vain. “So then I asked him to give me in writing why I missed my flight, why I was not allowed to board,” she said.
Thereafter, for the sake of formality the official wrote down why she was not allowed to board and she also agreed to get a refund to book tickets on another flight as she was getting late, Dwivedi said.
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 claimed.
On how the experience was with the other carrier she later flew in, she said, “They never created an 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 said.
“I travel a lot and wherever I go, I have never faced this problem. This time the travel agent booked the tickets on Alliance Air. He did not mention that I was a differently-abled or a wheelchair user while booking the ticket. That is required if I need a wheelchair. But I carry my wheelchair, so where is the need to put that (while booking a ticket)?”
“Even otherwise, imagine if I am travelling with a prosthesis and all of a sudden something happens to me and I cannot walk. I will definitely bring my wheelchair without any information. Are they so unprofessional that they cannot handle such a situation,” she asked.
Dwivedi lost her hands and a leg in 1994 after she accidentally came in contact with a high-power electric line. She was four then and has since been lauded as a braveheart for winning national and international accolades for her painting skills. Her struggles and achievements have made it to class 6 NCERT Hindi textbook.