Paraplegic Athlete ‘Forced to Urinate in a Bottle’ on flydubai

Nov 16, 2018

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In aviation, there is no shortage of horror stories from disabled passengers trying to negotiate proper accessibility with airlines.

The latest iteration of these encounters comes from a paraplegic athlete on board a flydubai flight from Dubai (DXB) to Helsinki (HEL) in October. Darren Belling, a 52-year-old Australian athlete, was on board the seven-hour flight to compete in the World Para Ice Hockey Championships in Finland.

About three hours into the flight, Belling informed a flight attendant he needed to use the lavatory and asked for access to the onboard wheelchair. The cabin crew replied there was no wheelchair on the plane.

“They said ‘we don’t carry on-board wheelchairs’, and told me just to hold on for the seven-hour flight,” Belling told the BBC. (The airline later told the BBC that it is unable to provide onboard wheelchairs.)

Then, the flight attendants brought Belling an empty water bottle so he could urinate while seated. Belling says that crew even attempted to charge him for the blanket they provided to cover himself while urinating. The athlete said he was “humiliated” by the experience.

“I was just in disbelief over the level of treatment,” he told the BBC. “It just throws up in your face that you’ve got a disability and some people and businesses don’t have an empathetic view of it and treat you differently.”

Flydubai finally offered an apology to Belling. “flydubai would like to sincerely apologise to Mr. Belling for the experience he had whilst travelling with us,” an airline spokesperson told TPG in a statement. “As soon as we were made aware of his experience we contacted him directly. We have spoken to Mr. Belling and we have taken his feedback very seriously. A full investigation is underway to understand how this happened. This experience falls short of our expectations as we aim to treat all of our passengers with care and respect.”

In the US, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) only requires aircraft with more than one aisle to provide a wheelchair accessible lavatory. Being outside of the US, flydubai would not be subjected to this legislation, but the low-cost carrier does have a fleet of all single-aisle Boeing 737 and 737 MAX 8s.

In 2016, US airlines reported 32,445 disability-related complaints, according to the Department of TransportationOf those complaints, 17,498 involved wheelchairs, 707 of which were reported to be damaged. An additional 338 complaints were related to “storage and delay” of a traveler’s wheelchair.

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