Disability Rights Alliance


Friday, 10 June 2011

2011, Mohammed Asif Iqbal

Sign bond to fly, blind exec told

9 Jun 2011

KOLKATA : A high-flying city executive, who has travelled across the world and helped frame disabled-friendly guidelines for Indian airports, hit an air pocket at Patna last week when a private airline insisted he sign a bond before allowing him to board. The apparent reason: he is visually impaired, and was travelling alone.

Md Asif Iqbal, 34, did eventually board the Ranchi-bound Kingfisher Red flight, but only after signing an indemnity bond that cleared the carrier and its employees of any charge should something happen to him during the flight. Iqbal has no ailments. He lost his eyesight at 16 due to a genetic disorder.

But that has never been a hurdle for Iqbal, who did his BCom from St. Xavier's and MBA from Symbiosis. He has been working as principal consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers since May 2005 and is now engaged in the ambitious Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI) project led by former Infosys chief executive Nandan Nilekani. He was in Patna to interview students on behalf of an NGO that will sponsor their two-year stay in the city and coach them for the engineering entrance examination.

Iqbal has lodged a complaint with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), alleging discrimination and harassment. The airline brass has been summoned for an explanation. Iqbal, ironically, had participated in the consultations initiated by the DGCA to make airports disabled-friendly.

DGCA is probing an identical complaint against the airline. Shabnam Mansoori, who is also visually impaired, was not allowed to board a Kingfisher Mumbai-Ahmedabad flight on May 10. Mansoori's two kids were travelling with her.

A Kingfisher Airlines spokesperson told TOI in an email on Wednesday the company regretted the incident and had taken punitive action.

Airline suspends service agent

Patna, June 14: Kingfisher Airlines today asked Supriya Sagar, a guest service agent at the city airport, to not report to work till further notice in connection with a case of alleged misbehaviour with a visually challenged passenger.

Sagar is the third employee of the airlines to be suspended in this case. On June 9, two other employees of the airlines, Shuddho Ghosh, the airport manager of Kingfisher at Patna, and supervisor Shamim Ahmed were also suspended.

Sources said on May 30, when Mohammad Asif Iqbal, a visually challenged passenger, boarded the Kingfisher Patna-Ranchi-Mumbai flight IT 3571, the ground staff “harassed” him. The flight was scheduled to depart from Patna for Ranchi at 2:05pm.

Iqbal later filed a passenger harassment complaint with the directorate-general of civil aviation (DGCA). According to the complaint, he was initially denied a boarding pass at the counter at Patna airport as he is visually challenged. After the initial denial, the ground staff of Kingfisher demanded that he sign an indemnity bond stating that he was travelling at his own risk. Only then was he allowed to board the aircraft.

“Initially, I was not given the boarding pass at the Kingfisher counter at Patna airport. I was made to wait while other passengers got their boarding passes cleared. After repeated requests and signing an indemnity bond, which is against DGCA rules, I was finally given the boarding pass and the permission to board the aircraft. Shamim Ahmed, who was the station in-charge at that time, misbehaved with me,” Iqbal told The Telegraph.

Airline sources said Ghosh was not on duty that day. Sources in civil aviation industry claimed that the regulations with respect to boarding of completely visually challenged passengers in Kingfisher aircraft were not very clear. Immediately after the incident, the airlines issued fresh guidelines regarding the boarding of visually impaired passengers, around 5pm on May 30.

Responding to the suspension of the airline employees, Iqbal said, “Some of them misbehaved with me and I endured the unnecessary hassle of signing an indemnity bond. That is the reason I made the complaint. However, I did not want either Ghosh or Supriya to lose their jobs. I am aware of the fact that Ghosh was not on duty that day. But whatever action has been taken against him is an internal matter of the airlines. Moreover, Supriya is a wonderful, kind-hearted and affectionate girl. I believe that it is only because of her that I got the opportunity to board the aircraft that day.”