Sunday, 21 December 2014

When will this trauma cease?

This is an open letter to the Director General of Civil Aviation as well as to the airport staff of Jet Airways and other private airlines. Can you please evolve a formula whereby I do not have to re-live the same trauma almost every time I fly. Unfortunately, that is the only way I can travel - not being able to get into trains or buses because of the ubiquitous steps that refuse entry to my wheelchair.

I must have taken more than a hundred flights with my wheelchair. The problem, you see, is that I use a battery-operated power-driven wheelchair. The DGCA as well as Jet Airways both make statements on their home pages of how people who need to use their own wheelchairs may do so provided they do not have spillable batteries. I have gone thrugh the same routine ad nauseum with our airlines, explaining that my wheelchair operates on a dry lithium battery, and that in fact, we always remove the key of the battery as well as the joy stick that operates the wheelchair before checking in my wheelchair, and that we have flown innumerable number of flights in this fashion, and yet, we often come up against these same oddball objections: (a) I am sorry but you must disconnect/open the battery; or (b) you need to pay so much money since your check-in baggage (including the wheelchair) exceeds the permissible weight - in spite of the home pages of both DGCA and Jet Airways clearly stating that people with mobility problems may have their wheelchairs carried by the free of charge! More than once, after we think everything has been satisfactorily explained, somebody had stopped us and insisted on my wife accompanying them to the wheelchair to `help disconnect the battery', and she did not get back before the airline staff started asking me to go ahead to the craft, as it is getting late, and that `she will join you' later. Given the efficiency they display with the handling of the wheelchair, I do not want to give them the chance to whisk me away, leaving my wife behind!

At the last leg of my flight, for the second ever time in my flying memory, we were permitted to collect the wheelchair from the hold of the craft, right on the tarmac, and use that to go to the arrival lounge. Also, on another flight I had to take this time, I saw, to my horror, the wheelchair come rattling down the luggage belt and crash into the bottom. It is not surprising that my wheelchair is not functional  now and has gone to the factory to get fixed up so I can drive it again. The machine just stopped working due to some loose connections caused by the airlines staff disconnecting all the connections between the battery and the motor, joy-stick controls, etc.

Is it too much to hope for, to ask to be issued a certificate by the DGCA or the airline concerned, stating that transporting my wheelchair is not a hazard, and that random yanking out of wires leads to great inconvenience and difficulties, as well as unnecessary anxiety - and most importantly, one which cannot be ignored by the airport security saying `their information/directive' demands that the wheelchair be subjected to theiir manhandling. Surely, it is not acceptable that I have to spend a few thousand rupees every time I get back home to get my friendly mechanic try and undo the damage suffered by the wheelchair.  

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