A popular Japanese airline has been forced to apologize to a disabled passenger who was forced to crawl up a flight of stairs to board his plane.
The man who is wheelchair bound, Hideto Kijima, had to pull his body from the runway at the airport on the resort island of Amami all the way up to the aircraft door once attendants at Vanilla Air rejected allowing his friends to carry him aboard the plane.
Distraught from the incident, Kijima, who is paralyzed from the waist down, has used over 200 international airports in 158 total countries but said this was the first time he was ever treated this poorly because of his disability.
The 44-year-old did say he was told before his trip into Osaka that the airline was not equipped properly with lifts to carry passengers with disabilities onto the plane. Vanilla Air is a more inexpensive airline and they simply don't have the necessary equipment on all planes.
An airline staff member said that specific safety regulations prohibited the disabled man's friends from carrying him up onto stairs to the plane. She said the staff initially attempted to stop him pulling himself up the 17 steps to the plane door for safety reasons as well.
Kijima, who injured his spine while playing rugby at high school, wrote on his blog, “I just had to ignore them and keep moving up, or I would not have been able to return to Osaka.”
One of Kijima’s friends had to push him from behind until he was able to reach the top level of the staircase, where airline staff was waiting with a wheelchair to take him to his seat.
“I’ve never thought I would be refused to fly for not being able to walk,” he said. “It’s a human rights violation.”
Vanilla Air apologized to Kijima, who is head of the nonprofit Japan Accessible Tourism Center after he took his complaint to the Japanese Transport Ministry.