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Mumbai: Air India slapped with Rs 30 lakh fine over octogenarian’s death

Updated on: 01 March,2024 07:08 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Prasun Choudhari |

DGCA rules that airline violated Aircraft Rules by not providing wheelchair to elderly deceased despite family pre-booking one

Mumbai: Air India slapped with Rs 30 lakh fine over octogenarian’s death

The incident occurred after the octogenarian landed in Mumbai via an Air India flight from New York. Representation Pic/Shadab Khan

Due to Air India’s lack of wheelchairs at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport, an 80-year-old passenger died last month while making his way from the aircraft to the terminal. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) sent Air India a show-cause notice demanding a response within seven days. Upon reviewing the latter’s reply, the regulatory body on Thursday declared the airline accountable and levied a Rs 30-lakh fine.

The incident

On February 16, after landing on an Air India flight from New York, the octogenarian requested a wheelchair at the airport but decided to walk as he was asked to wait due to heavy demand for wheelchairs.  The deceased was an Indian-origin, US passport holder. The wheelchair facility had been pre-booked. An airline spokesperson at the time of the incident disclosed that the passenger was immediately rushed to the hospital after collapsing during the immigration process, where he was declared to have passed away.

“There were 32 wheelchair passengers on this flight, but only 15 wheelchairs with accompanying staff on the ground to help them,” said an airport official requesting anonymity. According to data from air traffic control sources, the New York-Mumbai flight was scheduled to land at 11.30 am, but it landed late at 2.10 pm.

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Senior PI Dhananjay Sonawane from Sahar police station said, “The passenger was identified as Manubhai Patel. The cause of death was found to be a cardiac arrest. He was rushed to Nanavati Hospital where he was declared dead.” Air India, in a statement after the incident, said, “One of our guests flying from New York to Mumbai fell ill while proceeding to clear immigration with his wife, who was in a wheelchair. Due to heavy demand for wheelchairs, we had requested the passenger to wait till he was also provided with wheelchair assistance but he chose to walk with his spouse.”

Repercussions of ruling

In response to the DGCA’s notice, the airlines submitted a reply on February 20 which stated that Patel’s wife was given a wheelchair and crew members asked him to wait while they arranged for another one. But he decided to walk with his wife to the terminal instead. The DGCA found that Air India had not complied with a regulation, Carriage by Air - Persons with Disability (Divyangjan) and/or Persons with Reduced Mobility, outlined in the Aircraft Rules, 1937.

On Thursday, the DGCA issued a statement that read, “A show-cause notice was issued to Air India for not complying with the provisions of the Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) SECTION 3, SERIES ‘M’, PART I on ‘Carriage by Air - Persons with Disability (Divyangjan) and/or Persons with Reduced Mobility’, which is a violation of Aircraft Rules, 1937 (sic).”

A DGCA official said, “The airline failed to show compliance with the CAR as it did not provide any wheelchair to the elderly passenger. Further, it did not inform about any action taken against the erring employee(s). The airline also failed to submit any corrective actions taken to prevent the recurrence of such incidents in the future.” According to Air India, it is in touch with the family members of the deceased, extending necessary assistance, and it has a policy to offer wheelchair assistance to all passengers who pre-book it.

Wheelchair assistance

According to DGCA guidelines, it is solely the responsibility of airlines to provide passengers with a wheelchair. The body has also issued an advisory to all airlines stressing the need to ensure an adequate number of wheelchairs for passengers requiring assistance while embarking or disembarking from aircraft.

An official of Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL) said, “Wheelchair assistance is a service purely given by the airline. At the terminal, wheelchair inventory and manpower assistance are managed by the airline’s ground-handling staff. Airport operators only help coordinate with the airline in case any passenger requires help.”

Various opinions

A ground staffer said, “Often, aged couples, especially those with mobility issues and hearing problems, aren’t comfortable with briefly parting and travelling alone from the aircraft to the terminal.” Another claimed it’s a well-known industry secret that many passengers seeking wheelchair assistance don’t have any mobility issues. “Over a decade ago, airlines charged for the wheelchair facility. Only those with a medical certificate were provided one for free. Then, following pressure from various groups, this requirement was done away with,” said a senior airline official.

Feb 16
Day incident occurred

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