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TX: 03.07.03 - WHERE SHOULD DISABLED PEOPLE BE ALLOWED TO SIT ON PLANES?



PRESENTER: LIZ BARCLAY



BARCLAY
Now you want to fly off on holiday but you have a dodgy knee, so you need to be able to stretch your legs. The most sensible thing to do is to book an aisle seat in advance. And that's what Kirsten Herne did, she's also visually impaired and recently she was jetting off to Malaga. All went well at the check-in but when she got to the gate for boarding the staff of the airline - Monarch - had a nasty surprise for her.

HERNE
They said to me that I couldn't sit in an aisle seat because I was not able - they called it - and that I had to sit by the window because I would get in the way of any escaping passengers and this was the law.

BARCLAY
And was this at the gate or when you got onto the flight?

HERNE
This was at the gate actually, I'd even checked in and it was quite obvious I was blind, I checked in and I said what seat have I got - oh you've pre-booked a seat, it's an aisle seat. No comments at all at check-in. No comments until I actually got to just pre-boarding.

BARCLAY
Why did you specifically want an aisle seat?

HERNE
Because I've a bit of a gammy leg as well as being blind and I find it easier if I can stand up and move around and also I wouldn't have to climb over other people if I want to get out.

BARCLAY
And what did Monarch actually say as to why not?

HERNE
They said it was the law and I asked them which and they couldn't answer that because this unfortunately was air stewards, who wouldn't know because they're not there to - they just carry out the policies. I had already known that I wasn't able to sit near an emergency exit because presumably I wouldn't be able to open the door, then I thought sitting in an aisle seat say two rows back from the emergency was fine but no I impede other passengers disappearing out of the plane, which means that therefore the lives of disabled people are not very important.

BARCLAY
Have you flown with many other airlines?

HERNE
Yes I have and this is the first time they've made me sit in a particular place.

BARCLAY
So no other airline has actually specified that you should sit in a window seat?

HERNE
No. They have specified I mustn't sit near an emergency exit but they've never told me I can't sit in an aisle seat. I would like to know the health and safety case for actually saying that it is safer to leave a disabled person who needs assistance in moving in a corner seat, I would like to know has anybody really done a study about this and also what case law or history do they have of examples where disabled people who are sitting in aisle seats have impeded the exit of other people in an emergency situation. To me it's just an insult to people, another kind of like example for saying you're less important, you're of less worth than anybody else so you can sit in this place and we're going to insult you.

BARCLAY
Kirsten Herne. Jonathan Crick is commercial director of Monarch Airlines. Jonathan why does Monarch not allow blind people and those with other disabilities to sit in aisle seats?

CRICK
Well the overriding priority with all these matters, regarding passenger seating, is that of passenger safety and in particular in circumstances where an emergency evacuation may be required. And the guidance here is a legal one in that the UK airline industry has moved in recent years to the European joint aviation regulations and those regulations state that an operator must establish procedures to ensure that passengers are seated where in the event of an emergency evacuation they must best assist and not hinder evacuation from the aeroplane.

BARCLAY
So this is your interpretation of those guidelines?

CRICK
Yes, I mean it doesn't actually elaborate in detail the precise operating procedures that airlines must adopt. Although the Civil Aviation Authority, who are responsible for policing these regulations, will examine each individual operator's procedures and actually would bring us to task if they felt that our procedures were inappropriate.

BARCLAY
So how come most of the other airlines that we talked to don't have this policy - that they either encourage disabled people to take aisle seats, in that it is easier for them to get to the WCs or they give them the choice?

CRICK
Well obviously I can't really answer for other operators' interpretation of the policy. We know that - we do consult with other airlines, having said that, and we know there are a number of other airlines do choose the same interpretation that we do. And if I could just explain a little bit more why we adopt this policy. A passenger of reduced mobility and somebody who is considered a passenger of reduced mobility may suffer a physical or mental disability, somebody who may be substantially blind or deaf, somebody through their age, sickness or frailty or even obesity might have difficulty in moving quickly, if they were sat in an aisle seat could impede the speedy evacuation of those sitting out-board of them.

BARCLAY
Are there any studies that actually show that that is the case?

CRICK
Well I guess if there is potential for somebody who is not able to move with ease to obstruct the evacuation for any passenger that's - it's more or less obviously the case if they're going to move more slowly.

BARCLAY
Will Bee is transport expert at the Disability Rights Commission. Will is that obviously the case do you think?

BEE
No it most certainly isn't. Sadly this is down to the interpretation of the guidance by the individual airlines and as we've heard airlines differ in their views of how disabled people can cope in particular circumstances. This smacks back to the era 10 years ago of blanket bans - disabled people are fire risks - and that sort of interpretation. It doesn't take account of the individual circumstances and capabilities of disabled people, it disadvantages them substantially and as Kirsten has outlined can be quite humiliating in the way in which you're treated.

BARCLAY
So Jonathan Crick it doesn't take account of individual circumstances and wouldn't you say that it is giving out a signal that disabled passengers are less important than non-disabled passengers?

CRICK
Well I share your concerns and the other person's concerns about that. There is a no can do attitude amongst some airlines, I would definitely refute that Monarch is one of them and we've actually pioneered a number of initiatives to actually assist disabled passengers to travel where otherwise they wouldn't be able to. But if I could just elaborate, in circumstances where somebody of reduced mobility travels with us and if there's a pre-empted evacuation, we know about a problem, we would actually co-opt a member of crew or another passenger to assist that person in evacuating the aircraft and they can best do that by actually sitting in an aisle seat whilst the passenger of reduced mobility would sit out-board of them.

BARCLAY
Will Bee …

CRICK
So it actually aids their evacuation rather than obstructing it.

BARCLAY
Will Bee is part of the problem that travelling - disabled people travelling don't actually have any rights under the Disability Discrimination Act?

BEE
You're dead right Liz. Currently transport services are exempt from the Disability Discrimination Act and this allows the sort of blanket approaches that we've seen here and which so discriminate against disabled people. The government has consulted on removing that exemption and has promised to introduce a bill to give disabled people comprehensive civil rights later this year. We are pressing them to do so as soon as possible. Everyday disabled people are turned away from buses, from taxis, disadvantaged on trains or treated the way we've heard today on airlines, treated as second class citizens and we need the government to implement that bill so that by all means allocate disabled people to appropriate seats that do not impede emergency exits - as the guidance stresses - but treat them on the basis of their individual capacity, don't approach it in terms of blanket approaches which discriminate against disabled people and treat them as second class citizens.

BARCLAY
Will Bee from the Disability Rights Commission and Jonathan Crick from Monarch Airlines thank you both.






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