Blind traveller 'barred from boarding flight'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 April, 2011, 12:00am


The blind community has expressed outrage after a visually impaired man said he was denied access to a flight from Hong Kong despite being a seasoned traveller.

Zhu Min, 35, said yesterday that he felt insulted and discriminated against by Hong Kong Airlines ground staff who initially would not let him board a flight to Shanghai.

After he sought help from the Hong Kong Blind Union, Equal Opportunities Commission, police and Airport Authority, he was allowed to board but had to use a wheelchair.

'Ground staff of Hong Kong Airlines told me that blind people are not allowed to travel alone,' Zhu said, adding that he had never experienced such problems when flying alone before.

'The airline staff were not really offering help to the disabled, but treating us as a threat or crisis [in relation] to their business,' he said by telephone from Shanghai.

The airline denied having declined Zhu, but offered to apologise for what it said might have been a communication misunderstanding.

As well as being a frequent traveller, Zhu is a guide in the Dialogue in the Dark project, in which blind people lead sighted participants through situations in which they are deprived of sight.

Blind Union president Chong Chan-yau said he received Zhu's request for help on Wednesday night.

After a study of the case, the union believes the airline breached the Disability Discrimination Ordinance and international airline practices.

'We are outraged and have serious concerns about this case,' Chong said. 'The union demands Hong Kong Airlines give an explanation of its arrangements.'

According to the United States' Air Carrier Access Act, airlines cannot refuse to transport people on the basis of disability.

If a carrier excludes a disabled person on safety grounds, the carrier must give the person a written explanation of the decision.

The Equal Opportunities Commission said Zhu should lodge a complaint when he returned so it could follow up the case. A commission spokesman said it received a request for help from Zhu after he was barred from boarding a Hong Kong Airlines flight on Wednesday night.

Any airline that refuses service to a disabled person without reasonable grounds might breach the Disability Discrimination Ordinance.

A spokeswoman for Hong Kong Airlines yesterday denied its staff had declined to let Zhu board his flight, saying that there might have been 'some misunderstanding in communications'.

'We will send a letter apologising to Mr Zhu as we found he was dissatisfied with the service,' the spokeswoman said.