Low-cost Japanese airline Vanilla Air has apologised after making a man in a wheelchair drag himself up 17 steps to board a flight.
Hideto Kijima, 44, was catching a flight from Amami, an island to the south of Japan, when he learnt the airline provided no accessible way of boarding the flight.
Staff informed Kijima, who is paralysed from the waist down after injuring his spine playing rugby, that company rules prevented his friends from carrying him and initially tried to stop him pulling himself up.
Undeterred, Kijima got out of his wheelchair and dragged himself up the stairs to the plane while friends pushed him from behind. “I just had to ignore them and keep moving up, or I would not have been able to return to Osaka,” he said.
Hideto Kijima travels the world to see how accessible different places are (Hideto Kijima)
Kijima heads up Japan Accessible Tourism Centre, a not-for-profit watchdog that looks out for the rights of disabled passengers. Writing about his experience in a blog post, he said that while he’d had difficulty at airports, he’d never been told he could not board a plane.
“I’ve never thought I would be refused to fly for not being able to walk,” he said. “It’s a human rights violation.”
Having flown to 200 airports in 158 countries, Kijami said this was the first time an airline had prevented him from having help to board a flight.
The airline, which is owned by All Nippon Airways, apologised for the incident after Kijima complained to the transport ministry. “We’re sorry that we caused him that hardship,” a spokesperson told AFP.
Vanilla Air has also promised to have arrangements in place for disabled passengers at all airports they use. The airline said it was installing lifts at Amami airport, which is the only one it uses on its 14 international and domestic routes that does not have a lift to help passengers board.