Japan carrier makes wheelchair user crawl up stairs to board flight

TOKYO • A Japanese budget airline apologised yesterday for forcing a man in a wheelchair to crawl up a set of stairs to board his flight.

Mr Hideto Kijima, 44, was returning earlier this month to Osaka from a vacation in Amami, a small island off southern Japan, when a Vanilla Air employee told him that company safety rules banned anyone from carrying him up the stairs, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

The carrier, the budget arm of All Nippon Airways, did not have a lift at the small airport to move disabled passengers from the tarmac up to the jet's door.

Mr Kijima, who is paralysed from the waist down, said in a blog he was forced to crawl up the stairs using only his arms, which took two to three minutes.

Vanilla Air said yesterday it has apologised to Mr Kijima.

"We're sorry that we caused him that hardship," a company spokesman told AFP, adding the carrier has since made it mandatory to have lifts for disabled patrons at that airport.

The airline had previously barred passengers who could not walk from boarding flights at Amami because it was dangerous to carry someone up the stairs, the spokesman said.

Mr Kijima is a frequent traveller outside Japan and a representative of the website Barrier-Free Consulting Travel for All, which details examples of barrier-free facilities both in Japan and abroad, The Mainichi reported yesterday.

"If people who cannot walk are not allowed to board the plane, then are babies and the elderly also not allowed to board? I was surprised that the staff member didn't think that the company rules were absurd," The Mainichi quoted Mr Kijima as saying.

A spokesman for rival Japan Airlines (JAL), which also flies to Amami, said the carrier has a special lift to board wheelchair users at the airport, AFP reported. A JAL employee will offer to carry passengers in need if there is no lift available, he added.

The incident comes after United Airlines' public relations fiasco in April, in which a 69-year-old doctor in the United States was dragged off an overbooked flight.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2017, with the headline 'Japan carrier makes wheelchair user crawl up stairs to board flight'. Print Edition | Subscribe