A government minister has threatened legal action, and disability groups are up in arms, after a small Cambodian airline forced a disabled passenger to pay $240 on top of her ticket price for help getting on and off an aircraft.
Bassaka Air has admitted demanding the extra cash from Sudanese wheelchair user Rahma El Siddig Gasm Elbari Mustafa when she turned up at Siem Riep to board a flight to Phnom Penh on September 19.
If the government discovers the company had taken advantage of a disabled person intentionally, the head of the government’s Disability Action Council Vong Sauth said, it would take legal measures that could result in fines or other punishment for the airline.
Bassaka Air, which received its operating licence along with two other airlines in late 2014, claims Rahma had not notified them in advance that she would need special help to board the plane.
The airline said that when staff saw she was a wheelchair user, they told Rahma that she would need the help of an “ambulift” to raise her wheelchair to the level of the plane door, and that the charge for this service was $120.
The same amount would be charged for her to get off the plane in Phnom Penh.
Colleagues travelling with Rahma told Bassaka staff they would carry her on and off the aircraft themselves, the airline added, but they were told this was not allowed for safety reasons. Rahma then agreed to pay the $240 and boarded the flight.
According to the Cambodia Disabled People’s Organisation (CDPO), which represents 63 disability groups, Bassaka Air’s decision was a clear act of discrimination, a violation of disability laws and antithetical to government efforts to support the disabled.
The case also showed, the umbrella organisation said, continued weakness when it comes to implementing laws as well as national and international conventions aimed at bolstering the rights of disabled people.
“We, the disabled people and the representatives of all the disabled people in 25 towns-provinces, felt the pain of this case, since it demonstrated injustice and disobeyed disability laws, and in so doing risks motivating the rest of society to discriminate against disabled people,’ CDPO added in a statement.
Just last month, the government’s Disability Action Council announced that plans were under way to mandate handicap-accessible ramps at the Kingdom’s tourist attractions.