September 7, 2017
Vanilla Air Apologizes To Disabled Passenger Who Was Forced To Crawl To Board Plane

Vanilla Air, a low-cost Japanese airline, has issued an apology to a disabled passenger who was forced to crawl to board the plane.

According to the Washington Post, Hideto Kijima had been visiting Amami Oshima island, and was preparing to return to Osaka, where he heads the nonprofit Japan Accessible Tourism Center, from Amami airport on June 5. His Facebook post, which was written in Japanese, suggests his trip to Amami Oshima was amazing, but his trip home was not a good experience at all.

Kijima has been paralyzed from the waist down since he was in a rugby accident at the age of 17. Since then, he has had to use a wheelchair to get where he needs to go. As The Guardian reports, Hideto has used 200 airports in 158 countries, but this was the first time an airline has refused to help him board the plane. Instead, the Vanilla Air employees told him it was against their policy for him to be carried onto the plane in his wheelchair, leaving him no other choice but to crawl up the 17 stairs from the tarmac. Using only his arms, and a friend pushing him from behind, the 44-year-old hoisted himself up the stairs, a process which took four minutes, while the crew tried to stop him.

"I just had to ignore them and keep moving up, or I would not have been able to return to Osaka," he recalled. "I've never thought I would be refused to fly for not being able to walk. It's a human rights violation."

When Hideto finally reached the top of the stairs, a crew member was waiting on him with a wheelchair to take him to his seat. Following the incident, Vanilla Air reached out to Kijima to offer him an apology, the Asahi Shimbun reports.

"In the course of exchanges, the customer ended up going up the steps by himself, and airport staff could do nothing but just watch," Akihito Matsubara, the head of the carrier's department of human resources and general affairs, said. "Boarding in this fashion should never have taken place, and that was not what we had intended."

"We apologized to him for the unpleasant experience," Vanilla Air spokesman Akihiro Ishikawa said. "We also explained that we are taking measures to improve our service."

Despite the way he was treated, there is some good coming from it. On June 14, Amami airport made available a lift assist stretcher to help disabled people on and off of the planes. In addition, on June 29, the airport said they would be installing a stair lift for people using wheelchairs.

"These measures will ensure that passengers in wheelchairs are able to board our flights safely and comfortably," the airport said. "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."

"The stairs will be gone, and the problem will be gone," Hideto said.

[Featured Image by Simon Tang/Shutterstock]