Sometimes rules get in the way of common sense. But sometimes rules exist for a valid reason, even if they appear inhumane. This sad story, however, demonstrates that sometimes there is just no right answer.
Hideto Kijima is head of the Japan Accessible Tourism Centre, a nonprofit organization that seeks to make travel more accessible to those with disabilities. He is also wheelchair bound due to a high school rugby accident.
Nevertheless, he has traveled to 158 countries despite his inability to walk. According to Hideto, he had never been refused help in boarding a flight. That is, until he recently flew Vanilla Air, a low-cost subsidiary of ANA.
Traveling from the resort island of Amami to Osaka, the 44-year-old was told there were no lifts to help him up to the aircraft (the airport uses air stairs instead of jet bridges). Ok, so his friends can help him up the stairs, right?
When they tried, Vanilla Air staff actively attempted to stop them.
Risk of accident. Think about it: two people drag a man up air stairs and someone slips. An injury occurs. Now the airline is sued.
Staff were pushed away and Hideto made it onboard.
ANA: So Sorry! It Won’t Happen Again.
ANA has properly addressed the matter, apologizing and already announcing a solution:
We have taken immediate action to rectify the inadequate wheelchair access at Amami airport and at all smaller regional airports across our Japan domestic network, and have introduced manual chair lifts where facilities were found not sufficient to accommodate the needs of all our passengers.
These measures will ensure that passengers in wheelchairs are able to board our flights safely and comfortably. In addition to these measures, we are reviewing our airport handling procedures to make sure they are in line with our high customer service standards.
I’ll start here: the rule makes sense. The risk of injury is greatly increased when a crippled man is dragged up narrow/steep air stairs.
But what is the alternative? Tell disabled people they cannot visit Amami or other resorts? Why was there no manual lift already? Should Hideto have been told that he could not go home? Of course not.
Rules are rules, but the solution is not to strand him. Despite the increased liability there was no better solution. In fact, there was no other possible timely solution. Aggressively blocking his friends from helping not only demonstrates a lack of empathy, but a lack of common sense under the circumstances.
Most first-world nations have made the policy choice to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities. I think this is a good thing. Telling disabled people that certain destinations (especially domestic first-world ones) are off-limits strikes me as backward public policy.
What do you think? Anyone want to defend Vanilla Air?
top image: Qaz741 / Wikimedia Commons