How Dana Airline’s discriminatory policy, flight rescheduling landed physically challenged man in police custody
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CHIKE Okogwu, a 50-year-old man on Sunday, December 20, was to board an aircraft managed by Dana Airline to the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA), Lagos. The airline was scheduled to depart the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport (NAIA) at 7:20 pm.
But then, the flight was rescheduled to 9:05 pm.
This postponement and the fact that Okogwu, a development expert, is physically challenged cost him his trip to Lagos.
He missed the flight because Dana claims it does ‘not fly people with disability at night.’
The airline subsequently advisedhim to opt for a 7 .00 am flight the next day. This decision contravenes its policy of helping the physically challenged.
In anger, Okogwu allegedly destroyed computers at the airline’s counter, damaged customer relations gadgets and passengers’ database. There was also alleged bodily harm and fracture on the airline’s duty manager.
This comes about 24 hours after the airline’s passengers were reportedly abandoned at the Abuja airport for 14 hours due to flight postponement. A flight scheduled to take off at 11.00 am on Saturday did not leave until the next day.
The security operatives stationed at the airport eventually arrested Okogwu.
How it began
“I arrived at the Abuja airport at about 7.00 pm and got my boarding pass for my flight on Dana Air to Lagos,” Okogwu said while narrating his ordeal.
“A few minutes later, the lady who gave me my boarding pass informed me that as a result of my being on a wheelchair,because of a Dana Air Policy of not boarding persons on the wheelchair, I will not be boarded unto the aircraft.”
Okogwu later approached the duty manager to verify the claim and was told it was true.
He said the manager told him he could not board the flight because it was the last night flight, even though the customer reminded the Dana staff that the flight postponement was not his fault.
“I explained that it was Dana Air that changed my flight which hitherto was a 7:20 pm flight,” he wrote in a statement of complaint/accused form provided by the Directorate of Aviation Security, Crime Investigation and Intelligence Unit, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
He added that he was willing to pay men who would convey him on board the air craft, as that was the practice in all his years of flying Dana.
Ezenwa Okwudidli, Dana Communications Manager had earlier confirmed to The ICIR that Okogwu had been a frequent customer. That implies Okogwu never lied of steadily patronising the airline. But the operator’s spokesperson was quick to reflect the victim’s flight history. To him, it was not too pleasant.
“So, this person in question flies Dana Air regularly and he has an unusual history,” Okwudili said.
Yes, I destroyed their counter out of provocation – victim
Irked by the poor treatment, Okogwu was aggravated,wondering how he could be treated in such a manner having purchased a business class ticket .
Besides, he was to keep a medical appointment to treat what he described as a ‘debilitating ulcer’.
Moreover, he claimed the airline never provided prior notice of such policy to warrant such treatment.
“I got enraged by their nonchalance and insensitivity. And yes, damaged their counter,” he affirmed, adding that he was provoked after being denied his rights.
It’s turning bloody here in Abuja Airport. If we die, we die. I say no to discrimination of persons with Disabilities in Nig. pic.twitter.com/XbLdvGNiIk
— Dr. Chike OKOGWU. (@chikeiq) December 20, 2020
When The ICIR contacted him for comment, he said the matter was being handled by the police authorities. Both parties were to meet with the security operatives at about 3.00pm. He told this reporter he was ready to let go once the airline apologises, otherwise, he would continue with the matter.
In January 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Nigerian Discrimination Against Persons With Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018 after a decade of advocacy from disability rights groups and activists.
The law prohibits all forms of discriminations against persons with disability. If an individual is found guilty, he/she would pay a fine of N100, 000 or six-month imprisonment.
Moreover, the discrimination against such an individual is prohibited in public transportation facilities and service providers are to make provisions for the physically, visually and hearing impaired.
Part IV, Section 14 of the Act mandates all airlines operating in the country to, “(a) ensure accessibility of their aircraft to persons with disabilities.
“(b) Make available presentable and functional wheelchairs for the conveyance of persons with disabilities who need them to and from the aircraft.
“(c) Ensure that persons with disabilities are assisted to get on an off-board in safety and reasonable comfort.
“(d) Ensure that persons with disabilities are accorded priority while boarding and disembarking from the aircraft.”
“All airports shall make available for the conveyance of persons with disabilities who need presentable and functional assistive and protective devices to and from the aircraft,” Sub-section 2 of the Act reads further.
Let the law take its course, he is an unruly passenger – Dana
The ICIR reached out to Okwudili to verify claims made by the physically challenged passenger. He also affirmed the policy stressing that the airline had to come up with the position due to previous experiences from the special passengers which they term ‘reduced mobility’.
As for the airline, it is expected for the category of passengers to travel while being assisted by a relative.
Okwudili alleged some airlines don’t fly physically challenged passengers but Dana does, still with a condition. “Our policy says if you are flying, someone must accompany you to the airport and the person must assist you.”
While reacting specifically on Okogwu’s case, the spokesperson explained that when the victim arrived, a staff of the airline thought it wise to save him the normal passenger stress of getting his boarding pass.
He said two of the operator’s airlines had developed a fault, hence, the rationale for flight reschedule.
“We have been having issues with our flights. Two of our aircraft developed faults so we concluded we are going to follow the safety standards.”
“So, he was told we cannot carry passengers with disabilities in the night.”
The ICIR asked when Dana commenced the policy of not flying physically challenged persons at night but he could not answer.
The ICIR checked the airline’s website but no such policy was found. Rather, there was a commitment to help the incapacitated.
Yet Okwudili insisted on the proprietary of the action by Dana. “We look at the issues we have been having and we decided that the category of persons need to come with someone who could assist them so it doesn’t become an issue,” he said.
Even if the victim has issues with the employees, he should have engaged the appropriate authority, he added
“In the case of Dr Chike, he came to the airport but his flight was rescheduled as a result of what I explained earlier. And a female duty manager explained to him that sir, we don’t fly people with disability at night. He should come back tomorrow.”
“Only for him to attack the duty manager, causing her bodily injury and fracture. She is in the hospital now.”
The ICIR demanded the name of the hospital the manager was hospitalised. He promised to provide the name but never reverted.
Okwudili further accused the victim of damaging computers and equipment.
When asked why the airline failed to provide prior information on the policy, he simply responded that the victim should have engaged the airline’s officials rather than taking laws into his hands.
“The man has been taken to the police station, so we will allow the police to do their work.”
Babatunde Irekera, Head, Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), has since resolved to take up the matter as it falls under the mandate of the commission which is to ensure consumers rights are protected at all times.
“This is outrageous and unbelievable,” he reacted.
“I am hopeful this could never be the reason for denied boarding. However, if it is, I am keenly interested In holding Dana accountable. And ensuring they or others don’t ever behave in a similar manner.”