Wheelchairs and air travel

 

bhadras-staff-provides-special-assistance-to-passengers-at-chennai-airport-terminalI recently took my mother-in-law to Mumbai for a family wedding. While she can walk a bit, she finds standing for extended periods and walking long distances very painful, so I ordered wheelchair support for her at the time of check-in.

The Indigo airlines people (MAA-BOM) were very kind and helpful. They came and found us even before we reached the check-in counter and got her comfortably seated in a wheelchair. They then took her through security and and ensured that she reached the gate well before flight time. They then came back at the time of boarding and made sure she got on to the plane before anyone else and was seated comfortably before the rest boarded.

Similarly at the Mumbai airport, after everyone had disembarked, they brought a wheelchair through the aerobridge and remained with us till we got into a pre-paid taxi. The person manning the wheelchair even took her to a disabled toilet before we got into the cab. He remained patient, courteous and kind through out.

Our return was by Jet airways. The embarking process went smoothly with the wheelchair available to my mother-in-law from the airport entrance itself all the way to the aircraft. I was extremely happy with the service and it made my mother-in-law’s travel much less of an ordeal than it could have been without the wheelchair support provided by the two airlines.

At the Chennai airport, after the flight landed, we waited for everyone to disembark and then started to move forward towards the aerobridge when a flight attendant announced that wheelchair users should use the rear exit. We turned around and went there only to find a flight of steps down (no aero bridge). When we protested, they said please get down the steps and we will get you a wheelchair. So we helped her get down the steep stairs which she managed with a lot of difficulty. At the bottom, they said, please get into the bus and we will get you a wheelchair at the terminal. It was just another 20 meters and she was game, so we did not think too much about it. However, getting into the bus was something else! The first step of the bus is a good foot above the ground and she really found it difficult to climb in. Finally, my wife and I literally lifted her on to the bus while the ground crew stood around watching.

Not surprisingly, at the terminal end, there was no wheelchair waiting for us. We got her down from the bus and started making our way towards the baggage carousel. Just as we were almost at the carousel, the wheelchair finally arrived. As a saving grace, the attender stayed with us all the way to the pickup location a good 200 meters from the arrival hall.

When it comes to accessibility services, we are almost there, but not quite yet. The strength of a chain is that of the weakest link. Similarly, the final quality of the service depends not so much on the parts that you do well, but on the places where you drop the ball. In this case, the disembarkation process at the Chennai airport was a disaster in terms of service. Jet airways needs to take note and improve on their service.

I will be writing to them about this so they can really consistently do their job well. If you have a similar experience, please make sure you write to the concerned authorities so that they can improve upon their services. If we don’t tell them, how will they know they need to improve?

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