In the latest public relations disaster for the global airline industry, an airline in Japan has been forced to apologize to a disabled passenger who was forced to crawl up a flight of stairs to board his plane.
The passenger, named in a report in the Guardian as Hideto Kijima, had to haul himself up the steps of an aircraft at a tiny airport on the resort island of Amami, after staff at Vanilla Air refused to allow his friends to carry him aboard.
Incredibly, a member of staff told Kijima, a former rugby player who is a prominent advocate for disabled rights in Japan, that safety regulations prohibited his friends from carrying him up the stairs.
Kijima responded by pulling himself up the 17 steps, while a friend pushed from behind.
“I never thought I would be refused to fly for not being able to walk,” Kijima said. “It’s a human rights violation.”
Vanilla Air apologised to Kijima, who is head of the nonprofit Japan Accessible Tourism Centre, after he took his complaint to the transport ministry.
“We apologized to him for the unpleasant experience,” Vanilla spokesman Akihiro Ishikawa said. “We also explained that we are taking measures to improve our service.”
The airline said lifts were being installed at Amami airport, the only one of its 14 international and domestic routes that does not have a lift to enable wheelchair users to embark and disembark planes.
In April, United Airlines was plunged into controversy after passenger David Dao was violently removed from an overbooked aircraft.