IndiGo fined Rs. 5 lakh for mishandling special needs child
Low-cost airline IndiGo has been fined Rs. 5 lakh for not allowing a child with special needs to board an aircraft from Ranchi earlier this month. The fine was levied on the airline by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the country's main air travel regulator, after an inquiry revealed IndiGo's ground staff mishandled the child with special needs, which exacerbated the problem.
- The DGCA guidelines say, "No airline shall refuse to carry persons with disability or reduced mobility and their assistive aids, escorts, and guide dogs in aircraft's cabin."
- In December 2021, ruling on a matter involving disabled persons with prosthetic limbs or calipers, the Supreme Court also directed the DGCA to modify guidelines to ensure the dignity of persons with disabilities during air travel.
Imposing a Rs. 5L fine on Indigo, the DGCA stated, "A more compassionate handling would have smoothened the nerves, calmed the child, and would have obviated the need for the extreme step resulting in denied boarding to the passengers." It said that special situations deserved extraordinary responses but the airline staff failed and, in the process, committed violations of the Civil Aviation Requirements (Regulations).
The incident took place at Ranchi's Birsa Munda Airport on May 7 when the child reportedly had a meltdown, according to passenger Manisha Gupta's Facebook post. After completing the security check, the parents tried to calm the child. However, the IndiGo staff "warned" them they would not be allowed to board the flight if the child did not calm down and be "normal."
While responding to the outrage, IndiGo CEO Ronojoy Dutta said that they were "forced to make a difficult decision" whether to allow the child due to safety guidelines despite several attempts to calm the child. "Throughout the check-in and boarding process our intent, of course, was to carry the family, however, at the boarding area the teenager was visibly in panic," he said.
Netizens expressed anger toward IndiGo and warned of a boycott while also demanding action against the airline. However, IndiGo said it had provided a comfortable hotel stay to the child and his parents and they flew the next morning to their destination. "We regret the inconvenience caused...IndiGo prides itself on being an inclusive organization...over 75,000 specially-abled passengers fly with IndiGo every month," it said.
After the incident, Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia had ordered a probe. He had said there was "zero tolerance for such behavior" and action would be taken following the investigation. "No human being should have to go through this! Investigating the matter by myself, post which appropriate action will be taken," he had written on Twitter after the incident came to the fore.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation also started investigating the incident immediately and assured that appropriate action would follow. Arun Kumar, the chief of the aviation regulator, had also sought a report from IndiGo. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) had also taken cognizance of the incident and said appropriate action will be taken.