Sunday, April 21

Open letter to the CEO of Malaysia Airlines

15

c_pc0019645I WAS passenger 11A of flight MH784 from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok on Feb 1, 2017. I was travelling with my wife to attend the Prince Mahidol Award Conference 2017.

When the travel agent booked the tickets, Malaysia Airlines was informed I am a wheelchair user and require an aisle chair to get into the aircraft. At check-in, I again informed the counter staff of that need and told her I would check in my wheelchair at the gate and want it at the gate when I arrived. The wheelchair was duly tagged.

At the departure lounge, I repeated the same information to the staff and was assured it was being taken care of. My wheelchair was tagged a second time there. I was allowed to board first but there was no aisle chair. I was made to wait 15 minutes outside the aircraft while the other passengers boarded until an aisle chair was brought in.

The arm-rest for seat 11C was faulty and couldn’t be lifted despite repeated attempts by your cabin crew. I have tetraplegia and had great difficulty transferring to the seat and vice versa when the flight landed at Bangkok.

I strained my arm and shoulder muscles while trying to lift myself over the arm-rest. I was made to wait for more than one hour inside the aircraft before I could disembark. An aisle chair was unavailable and my wheelchair was sent to the carousel despite it sporting two tags, indicating for it to be delivered to the aircraft.

I use a highly customised wheelchair witha fitted cushion and wasn’t keen in using the standard airport wheelchair because the non-detachable arm-rest makes it difficult for me to transfer. Moreover, the latter would cause postural problems and was ill-fitted for me to position my legs and feet properly.

When the aisle chair finally arrived, I again requested to have my wheelchair outside the aircraft. I was assured by your cabin crew it would be at the departure lounge instead.

However, I was told by your ground staff after I disembarked that my wheelchair was at the carousel and I had to use the standard wheelchair from the departure lounge all the way to the carousel. I vehemently protested but to no avail.

Your cabin crew telling me my wheelchair would be brought to the departure lounge was to get me off the aircraft. I wonder if this is the standard practice of Malaysia Airlines when it comes to treating disabled passengers.

Because the arm-rest of the standard wheelchair wasn’t detachable, your ground staff had to carry me from the aisle chair to the standard wheelchair. I could have transferred independently if my wheelchair was available.

I got a backache by the time I reached the carousel because my posture was not properly supported. When my wheelchair was finally located, again, your ground staff had to get someone to help carry and transfer me.

I was told that none of my requests was noted in the manifest. This was absolutely shocking when I had taken pains to inform all the staff who dealt with my needs during the entire chain of booking and checking-in.

Stranding me for one hour inside the aircraft after it had landed is totally unacceptable for whatever reason. I had timed my arrival and journey to the venue to enable me to attend a particular session at the conference. Unfortunately, I had to miss the entire session due to this delay. It also threw my pre-arranged transportation to the venue into disarray.

In the time I was stuck inside the aircraft, I could have gained valuable knowledge at the conference. Imagine yourself wasting one hour doing nothing and neither knowing what is happening nor when you are able to get out from a situation like that – and tell me whether this is tolerable by your standards or not.

A similar incident happened in Soekarno-Hatta International Airport on Dec 8, 2016 for flight MH721 when no aisle chair was available to facilitate my disembarkation. I had to be carried out by two of your ground staff. I hadn’t complained then as I thought it would be a one-off incident. However, this has proven not to be so.

I am sure you are aware of the dangers of carrying a passenger within the narrow confines of an aircraft. A trip or a misstep could send both the carriers and me tumbling down and cause severe injuries no matter how well-intentioned the act was.

When the organiser of the conference asked which airline I preferred, I had requested without hesitation for Malaysia Airlines despite the earlier bad experience at Jakarta. I would love to continue supporting Malaysia Airlines but the incident at KLIA and again at Suvarnabhumi Airport has made me think twice about flying with Malaysia Airlines again.

In comparison, I have flown Japan Airlines four times and the service was always seamless and impeccable without the need for repeated requests. Therefore, I am aghast that Malaysia’s flag carrier, once the pride of the nation, could dish out such poor service.

Malaysia Airlines should openly and unreservedly apologise for this severe shortfall in service which has caused mental distress and physical suffering for me and my wife. I am still troubled by backache and muscleache from the incident.

Malaysia Airlines should also reprimand and take action against all the staff involved for the lapse in service.

In view of these incidents, it is high time for Malaysia Airlines to seriously look into reviewing and improving the booking process and support requests for disabled passengers, and ensure that facilities inside the aircrafts are functioning as they should.

In addition, all staff dealing with passengers must be professionally educated on disability equality and impressed to have true empathy for all passengers.

Finally, I would like to point out that Malaysia has the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 in force and has ratified the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2010 both of which call for the protection of the dignity and rights of disabled persons.

Therefore, there is neither reason nor excuse for the national carrier to provide such poor service like the one I experienced.

I trust immediate action will be taken and I look forward to a positive response from the airline.