Student With Disability Accuses SIA Staff Of Discrimination On 2 Separate Flights
For those with a disability, it can be unpleasant to become the victim of discrimination in public spaces. Unfortunately, such incidents aren’t rare, and often leave affected individuals in difficult situations.
This was the case recently when a student accused Singapore Airlines (SIA) of discriminating against her on two occasions.
In response, the airline has apologised.
Student with disability says SIA discriminated against her
Speaking to ABC News, 23-year-old Isabella Beale said the first incident occurred while she was on a flight from Australia.
She was sitting at the emergency exit row when an air stewardess approached her, speaking in a “loud tone” and sounding “frantic and rushed”.
Ms Beale recounted her saying, “Get out, get out of that seat now, you need to get up.”
Taken aback, she switched seats with her partner, who wasn’t next to the emergency door. She assumed things would be fine then.
On its website, SIA states that those pregnant, under 15, with infants or aren’t “fully able-bodied” cannot sit in emergency exit rows.
To elaborate, SIA explained that fully able-bodied passengers are those who “have sufficient physical dexterity, strength and mobility to evacuate the aircraft expeditiously through the emergency exit without assistance and without impeding others”. The airline identifies “invalid” and “handicapped” passengers as not fully able-bodied.
Although she is a congenital amputee without a left forearm, Ms Beale does not require any assistance.
However, the air stewardess allegedly protested this, stating, “No, get up, you have to sit in the row behind.”
The encounter caused Ms Beale to have “a little cry” as it was “very humiliating and upsetting”.
Endured worse treatment on 2nd flight
For her return trip to Australia, Ms Beale claimed that she asked staff at the check-in desk where she could sit.
The staff reportedly confirmed and reissued her ticket, with her seat still in the emergency exit row.
Ms Beale described the treatment on this flight as being “tenfold worse”.
Right before take-off, a woman allegedly asked to see her ticket and told her to move without “speaking politely” or acknowledging her as an individual.
The woman also spoke to her partner and his mother, which made Ms Beale wonder if the woman thought that she couldn’t understand her.
And I don’t know if that assumption came because I’m a person with a disability or if she assumed that because I had a physical disability, I had an intellectual disability.
Upon asking for an explanation as to why she had to move seats, some ground staff boarded the flight.
Ms Beale noted that at that point, two air stewardesses, two ground staff and all passengers were witnessing the scene unfold.
She claimed that the manager even gestured to her missing limb and repeatedly declared, “Well, the problem’s obvious”.
That understandably upset Ms Beale who felt like they were vilifying her for her disability in front of everyone.
It didn’t help that they were allegedly in a rush and raising their voices.
SIA apologises to student with disability
In light of the incident, an SIA spokesperson issued a statement apologising for causing distress or embarrassment.
ABC News quoted the spokesperson as saying that the airline “take (s) allegations of discrimination seriously and will not tolerate any form of discrimination or harassment”.
After Ms Beale’s complaint, SIA conducted an investigation. They reportedly discovered that the cabin crew had determined that she did not meet the requirements for the emergency exit row.
The spokesperson noted that the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) disallows passengers with a disability or restricted mobility in the emergency exit row. They also directed the public to the requirements on SIA’s website.
Apparently, all parties would have to review and agree to the requirements at the time of booking. Regarding this, SIA admitted the failure in making such calls either at check-in or during the boarding process.
As for the seemingly hasty interactions, the airline attributed it to the “time constraints of preparing the aircraft for departure”. Moreover, the crew was acting on a “potential safety issue”.
After the complaint, SIA has given staff further customer training. Ms Beale’s family has also apparently received a refund for the extra cost of the exit row seats.
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