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23 Feb, 2009 05:55

Airline refuses to let weak-sighted passenger fly

Russian air company S7 has refused to allow a weak-sighted passenger to fly with them, despite the fact that they had already been informed of the passenger’s condition, and he is now planning to sue the company.

On February 18, Pavel Obiukh was supposed to take a Moscow-Kazan flight for a business trip as a member of the regional non-governmental organisation of people with disabilities, Perspektiva.

“I arrived at the airport in a taxi. The driver accompanied me to a medical facility. A medic was then supposed to accompany me to the check-in desk. Instead, that person called an air company representative, who said that I can’t board their plane,” said Obiukh.

But the S7 employee said that such a weak-sighted person could not be allowed on board unaccompanied.

“I called the driver again. He helped me to buy a ticket on another air company’s flight, Tatar Airlines,” Obiukh added.

S7 said in a statement that Pavel Obiukh was not allowed to fly as the ticket agent had failed to notify the company.

Pavel stresses that when his company booked the ticket, he also asked his colleagues to tell the air carrier about his disability in advance.

“This was done according to their rules and procedures. But when I arrived at the check-in desk, they refused to allow me to travel. I wasted my time and I felt I was insulted,” Obiukh says.

He says after the incident he feels not only his but the rights of all disabled people were violated.

It’s not the first time S7 has not allowed a person with a disability to board one of their planes. Last summer another member of Perspektiva, Natalia Prisetskaya, who uses a wheelchair, wanted to fly to Vladikavkaz in Russia’s Caucasus. She was also denied access without an accompanying person.

The air company said a person using a wheelchair can be allowed unaccompanied on board only if he or she can take their seat without help.

Prisetskaya filed a law suit against the air company demanding 1million roubles as compensation for moral damage. The money was supposed to go to the federal budget and to the Consumers’ Confederation.

The court ordered S7 airlines to pay 50,000 roubles in compensation, as well as fining the company 25,000 roubles, with half of the amount to be paid to the Consumers’ Confederation.

Now she says she can’t believe such a situation has happened again.

“I'm shocked that after so much was done on different levels including governmental and international, another case of the violation of the rights of disabled people occurs again. It evokes only shock and resentment,” Natalya says.

Perspektiva organisation lawyer Pavel Larionov says its not just people's attitudes that need changing but also the law.

“Currently we are working on changing the present norms and rules in the law that violate the rights of disabled people. Talking about the case of Pavel, we are sure that the actions of S7 were basically discrimination against disabled people in Russia,” says Larionov.

According to the Russian Air Code, an air carrier can refuse to allow a disabled person onboard unaccompanied if it was not informed about the passenger’s disability in advance.

In Europe special regulations stipulate that people with disabilities cannot be refused transport on grounds of their disability.

They also say airports should provide services and all necessary assistance for such persons to get on the flight.

Besides, air carriers should, whenever possible, take the needs of the disabled into account when deciding on the design of new and newly refurbished aircraft.