Vanilla Air makes wheelchair user pull himself up stairs to airplane

by

Staff Writer

A subsidiary of All Nippon Airways Co. has apologized to a man paralyzed below the waist after it forced him to climb stairs on his own using only his arms to board a plane at Amami Airport in Kagoshima Prefecture.

The flight’s operator, Vanilla Air Inc., a low-cost carrier wholly owned by ANA Holdings Inc., issued the apology to Hideto Kijima, 44, and have since installed equipment to help disabled passengers board its aircraft, according to the airline and Kijima.

“Whatever the reason is, I felt as if they didn’t want me on board,” said Kijima, who used the budget carrier for a trip from Kansai International Airport in Osaka Prefecture to Amami Airport on Amami-Oshima Island.

Kijima heads the Japan Accessible Tourism Center, a nonprofit in the city of Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture. The center provides foreign tourists with disabilities who need assistance with information about travel in Japan.

On arrival at Amami, Vanilla Air allowed three companions to carry Kijima in his wheelchair down to the tarmac.

However, on his way back to Osaka on June 5, the airline told Kijima he could not ask for similar help when boarding the plane, saying it was against the company’s rules for people to carry passengers in wheelchairs up the boarding ramp.

The decision left Kijima with no other choice than to pull himself up the steps using his arms.

A Vanilla Air spokesman told The Japan Times that the company could not have passengers use the staircase while in a wheelchair due to “safety concerns” unless it was notified five days in advance. The airline installed a stretcher at the airport on June 14 to help disabled passengers.

Kijima, who has traveled to about 160 countries and used over 200 airports, said even when he visited countries that had no special equipment to help the disabled, people nearby helped him board and disembark from planes.

Kijima said he was surprised to be prohibited from boarding a flight using his wheelchair, and that he hoped his case would become “an example of a solution to be taken when similar forms of discrimination take place.”

“In Japan, the Law on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities finally took effect in April last year,” Kijima said. “The law has encouraged authorities and airlines to address similar problems without incident.”

After his experience at Amami Airport, Kijima asked the Kagoshima and Osaka prefectural governments as well as the transport ministry to make efforts to make sure no one has to go through anything similar. They immediately asked Vanilla Air to address the matter, he said.

“Vanilla Air also admitted to their mistake (in handling his boarding) and took specific measures,” he said.