Indian budget airline SpiceJet faces allegations of discriminating against the disabled after Miss Jeeja Ghosh got thrown off a SpiceJet flight.
On Sunday, Jeeja Ghosh, director of advocacy and disability studies at the Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy, boarded a SpiceJet flight at Kolkata airport. Miss Ghosh, whose condition causes slight twitch of her head and has speech problems, was traveling to Goa to attend a seminar.
Shortly after boarding the aircraft a flight attendant asked Jeeja to get off the flight. She got in a car and brought back to the terminal building.
"I was hysterical as the flight officials did not bother to explain why they had stopped me from taking the flight," Jeeja told The Times of India.
Jeeja is a frequent flyer. Cerebral palsy never prevented her from traveling by air unaccompanied. “I am a regular flier. All I need is a little bit of assistance,” she said.
Jeeja Ghosh said that the captain of the SpiceJet flight had refused to travel with her on board because she did not carry the "fit to fly certificate".
Airport officials said some airlines require challenged passengers to carry a "fit to fly certificate". "Since she was not carrying one, the airline chose not to have her on the flight," an official said.
According to India's Civil Aviation Requirements, Section 3 – Air Transport Series ‘M’ Part I (Carriage by Air of Persons with Disability and/ or Persons with Reduced Mobility) "no Medical clearance or special forms shall be insisted from persons with disabilities or persons with reduced mobility who only require special assistance at the airport for assistance in embarking/ disembarking and a reasonable accommodation in flight, who otherwise do not require any additional assistance."
Medical clearance, "Fit to Fly" certification, may be required when the airline has received information that the passenger suffers from any contagious disease, the physical condition may affect the flight safety and emergency evacuation procedures may need medical attention, or condition may worsen during the flight.
None of the above applies to Jeeja Ghosh. Quite the opposite; while SpiceJet's captain was taking his decision based on visual judgement, others were vouching for the woman fitness to fly. At the time of the incident, the executive director of the Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy, called SpiceJet to tell the flight staff Ghosh is fully capable of travelling on her own. Nevertheless, the captain decided to throw the disabled woman off the flight.
“I was seething. I have never felt so insulted. The sheer insensitivity made me cry,” Ghosh told the media.
SpiceJet is India's second largest budget airline, operating a fleet of 40 aircraft connecting 31 cities with 240 flights daily.
SpiceJet has since apologized to Jeeja Ghosh. The airline said the event will be investigated.