Harrowing as Nidhi’s experience was, it is not an anomaly.
Nidhi Goyal’s ordeal with the Lufthansa Airlines, where she was detained in a lounge for hours with no food, points to the larger discrimination against people with disabilities.
Lufthansa is commonly touted to be the largest airlines in all of Europe in terms of fleet size and second largest in terms of the passengers that it carries. The many services that it boasts of include inclusive measures for people with disabilities. However, in this bracket at least, the airlines failed to live up to its name when Mumbai-based disability activist and comedienne Nidhi Goyal stopped off at Munich airport for a layover from Mexico City.
While resting in the lounge designated for people with disabilities, Nidhi, who is visually impaired, asked to be assisted out to get some food and was refused — a clear violation, not only of the airline rules but also basic human rights. “I am a frequent flier and have even flown with Lufthansa before and have never had to face such a situation before. The lady at the lounge simply would not let me leave! She said she couldn’t leave with me and refused to arrange for assistance,” says an outraged Nidhi.
The alleged harassment did not stop there. The comedienne, who had a valid Schengen Visa was not allowed to go out of the airport when her friend came to meet her either. “My friend, who is proficient in German, spoke to the lady at the lounge and explained the whole situation to her but she just would not listen. At first she even refused to give me my boarding pass back! When I asked her to make me speak to someone to complain, she didn’t even let me do that, and said I would have to wait till it was time to be assisted to my connecting flight to Mumbai,” Nidhi recalls.
The ordeal lasted for around six and a half hours, which was the duration of Nidhi’s entire layover. “It was almost as though I were being detained for committing a crime. If I have a valid Schengen Visa, how can anyone stop me from leaving? She simply took away my sense of agency because she could. It’s a kind of bullying, and it points to some very dangerous tendencies. I could still have walked out, or shouted for help, but I wonder what someone uses a wheelchair or can’t speak would do,” she adds.
Being a disability activist, and one who likes to speak her mind, Nidhi took to Twitter and also lodged an official complaint with the airlines, but got nothing but automated responses during the initial days. “It was only after I had spoken to the media and had appeared on TV speaking about my experience that they sent me any kind of formal apology. Even then, it was as though they simply paraphrased me from when I had said that the least they could do is to offer an apology and say that they are looking into it,” she laments.
Harrowing as Nidhi’s experience was, it is not an anomaly. Prominent cases like Antara Telang, who was asked to remove her prosthetic leg and made to crawl through security, and Jeeja Ghosh, who was deplaned from Spice Jet, have come up over time. “Since I have spoken up about the issue, several others have also reached out to me and told me that this has happened to them in different airlines. One lady, who reached out from the US, said that she was not even allowed to use the loo once, and that she has faced similar discrimination on other airlines. Another gentleman from Navi Mumbai, who has low vision, told me that he had been in a similar situation but had risked stepping out of the lounge without his pass,” says Nidhi, who admits that she may never take a flight with a long layover after this.
On contacting Lufthansa, the official statement said, “Our customer relations team is currently working on this case. We have provided Ms. Goyal an initial response two days ago while furthering the investigation. Hence, rest assured the incident is not overlooked and is being taken care of. We will contact Ms Goyal again to provide an update in the next days upon completion of investigation.”