Garuda denied service to a disabled passenger on the Bali to Surabaya route last month because the airline could not accommodate a wheelchair.
Neil Robinson, a quadriplegic, was let down when Garuda staff told him at the eleventh hour that he could not board the plane.
After booking his tickets Neil had called the flagship airline to make sure they could arrange the necessary procedures for his wheelchair; using a high-lift if a jetway is unavailable, having the plane close enough to the gate to wheel across the tarmac, as well as an aisle chair that is narrow enough to fit in the plane.
He was assured these basic procedures would be in place for his flight.
Neil however, was at the gate with his boarding pass when staff realised they could not accommodate him.
They had no high lift. They had no aisle chair. They had parked the plane a shuttle bus ride away.
He was forced to have his luggage taken off the plane and wait in queue for hours for a refund only to be told he should send Garuda an email for a refund.
Three hours after he paid a cancellation fee as if he was responsible for his own exclusion from the flight, and was finally returned the remaining money.
Neil said the experience was humiliating, frustrating, and expensive, but typical of the low level of disability consciousness in Indonesia.
“Garuda’s lack of accommodation for disabled people illustrates that they have a long way to go in providing professional services and standards. Their staff are unaware and unable to cope with the needs of those in wheelchairs,” he said.
Neil recounted how staff had tried to help with good intent but were ignorant of his situation.
“What they were proposing to do was to lift me in my wheelchair onto the shuttle bus without any restraints for the chair. The next step was to grab a leg and a shoulder each and drag me up the stairs into the plane and plonk me down on the seat. I’m not light and if I get injured I can’t tend to my responsibilities back home. I can easily break ribs and collarbones like this because I can’t support myself.”
He insisted that it wasn’t that Garuda staff are malicious, he said unfortunately a lack of disabled facilities and awareness is the usual thing in Indonesia, among many other things people are dealing with.
“Honestly when we were at the refund counter half the issues the staff were attending to shouldn’t have occurred or should have been expedited right away,” he said.
“As a visitor I can look at this as a cultural experience, but if I lived here life would be very hard.”
Neil is no stranger to facing both logistics and disability awareness in overseas travel. He visits Bali every year and has made numerous trips to other South East Asian countries such as Singapore, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka.
“I go to so much trouble to do these trips, all the organising and planning and in the end it’s the airlines that will let me down.”
Garuda has received awards as the most improved airline, yet when it comes to accommodating special assistance passengers it fails to standardise equal opportunity services and procedures.