January 07, 2010

Stupid! Heartless! Inappropriate! (UPDATED)

THE Philippines enacted Republic Act 7277 or the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons on March 24, 1992. This is why many of our malls now, for instance, have ramps for wheelchair-bound customers, and doorways in many public establishments have specific dimensions to let wheelchairs through.

The law specifically prescribes mechanisms to integrate disabled persons – whether they be mentally-challenged, physically handicapped, or psychologically impaired – into the mainstream society, and gov't must ensure the means to rehabilitate them or contribute to their development.

So it is really disgusting to read a story about an airline refusing to transport a passenger just because he is a "special child," which is apparently the airline's code-phrase for someone who is mentally-impaired. Airline officials apparently declined to be interviewed about it and only issued a press release saying that management has already apologized to the victim's family.

I thought twice about blogging about this incident, because I have some friends representing that airline. But I'm sorry guys, there are things that need to be said.

Apparently, the airline has an internal policy of allowing only one mentally-handicapped person onboard any of its flights. There was a child w/ Down's Syndrome who had boarded earlier than the victim in this incident, so the airline crew was only trying to follow company policy.

But I still don't get why there is even such a rule in that organization. Is management afraid that the mentally handicapped persons would become unruly during the flight and cause mayhem among other passengers? Are mentally-challenged persons flight risks?

Whatever the airline's reason for having such an internal policy, it is very clear that this is discriminatory. It opens up the airline to a lawsuit, because the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons clearly states:

"Sec. 34. Public Transportation. — It shall be considered discrimination for the franchisees or operators and personnel of sea, land, and air transportation facilities to charge higher fare or to refuse to convey a passenger, his orthopedic devices, personal effects, and merchandise by reason of his disability."

I can understand how humiliated the mother must have felt, esp. for her child. That is a pain that cannot easily be erased by an apology and a year's worth of free airline tickets. This was clearly more than just a misstep on the part of the airline. It was not as simple as having fumbling airline crew who didn't know how to handle the situation. It is plainly cruel and inappropriate in this day and age to have an internal policy discriminating against mentally-handicapped persons, period. I hope the airline scraps this policy once and for all.

(UPDATE 01/08/10 at 5:26 pm) Cebu Pacific sent me this press statement and attached document yesterday regarding their policy on transporting mentally-handicapped persons. In effect, it says the airline clarifies that it has no such policy that refusing carriage of those with special needs. In the interest of fairness, I am herewith publishing their side:

CEB statement on Alcantara case

Furthermore, I found Resolution 700 of the International Airline Transport Association which prescribes procedures/rules on transporting disabled persons. The rules are silent on how many disabled passengers can actually be transported on any flight:

IATA Resolution 700 (from IATA website)

Now, given CEB's statement re: admitting fault of its cabin crew, clearly management is still answerable for the lack of the flight steward's training. I just hope this issue is solved amicably, with the welfare of the victim actually as the goal of the settlement, and not the ahem, lawyer's welfare.

1 comment:

Nick Tingog said...

Yes, mentally impaired can add risks to passenger safety during a flight emergency especially if the impaired passenger is unable to put on the oxygen mask by themselves or if they cannot follow crew instructions and slow down other passengers during evacuation procedures.