Airport spat over crutch flight ban

By Zhang Zihan Source:Global Times Published: 2012-11-13 23:45:05


Li Chen sings
Li Chen sings "Outside the Window" during a performance held in the Cultural Center of Xicheng District, Beijing on November 27, 2010. Photo: CFP

A disabled singer has claimed staff at Hangzhou International Airport attempted to bar him from bringing his crutches on board an Air China flight to Beijing on Monday.

Both the airport and Air China have told the Global Times the incident was due to a communication failure.

Beijing-based pop star Li Chen, 36, who suffered from polio when he was young, posted a message on his Sina microblog Monday, alleging that the airport said he could not use his crutches to board the aircraft.

"They said crutches are banned on board now and said I would have to put them in the hold. Also if I use a wheelchair, they can only push me to the bottom of the plane [steps]. We have been quarreling for a long time!" posted Li, who has released three albums and is known for a song called "Outside the window."

Li said it was the first time he has been in such a situation in the 20 years he has been flying.

"Everyone, please give me some suggestions on how to board, should I crawl, or roll?" he posted.

His message was reposted 5,000 times and attracted 3,500 comments, many of which attacked the airline for being unsympathetic, or for having tightened security regulations in recent days.

The Global Times tried to contact Li, but had not received a response by press time.

Zhu Yeqing, a member of the security staff from the airport, told the Global Times that according to the surveillance camera record, Li looked fine when he was at the  security gate. 

"His message was posted after leaving our gate," she said.

Another member of the airport's security staff, who did not give his name, said it is not up to them to decide if passengers can take items such as crutches on board, as this is down to the airline. 

"Li's case might be caused by a communication failure between the customer and airline company," he said.

An Air China media officer, surnamed Xu, said that security regulations had not been strengthened recently, but noted that passengers are banned from carrying crutches as they are blunt objects which could cause injury.

"Basically crutches should be checked into the hold. It seems Li did not understand our regulations very well when he was checking in, and this led to some misapprehension," said Xu.

But, said Xu, passengers are also not allowed to use their own wheelchairs.

"Air China will provide passengers with wheelchairs and elevator help as long as they inform us 48 hours ahead of the flight. But Li did not do this, so we knew nothing about his crutches until he arrived at the airport," said Xu. 

The plane was parked far away from the airport terminal with no air bridge, said Xu, so an elevator would be provided to lift Li to the aircraft.

"But he refused when we proposed this and insisted on using the steps," said Xu.

According to Xu, both sides finally reached a compromise as Li used his crutches to board, and after that he handed them to the crew to be locked away.

"Li's flight went smoothly later on," said Xu.

Chang Xiao, who sings in a Beijing-based disabled art troupe, told the Global Times many disabled people use special crutches made with thick steel tubes which are heavy and can be dangerous.

"I can understand the airline's choice," said Chang.

However, he said that his troupe had just returned from a tour in the US, and Delta Air Lines did not ban his colleagues from using crutches to board.

"They just locked them away during the flight," he said.

Other airline companies differ in their approach to this issue.

China Eastern Airlines customer service said passengers should consult airports first, and as long as the airport and flight crew agreed, they are allowed to bring crutches on board.

According to Cathay Pacific's official website, no limit on mobility aids and assistive devices are required for its US flights and for European flights, every passenger can carry one assistive device and two pieces of mobility aids per passenger.

Posted in: Society, Metro Beijing

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