Thanks @emirates for removing our family from your flight. Our son has epilepsy: we had told you, just come 14 hr from Melbourne, got his doctor on the phone & medical clearance while still on board. He has #autism & severe learning difficulties - v traumatic. pic.twitter.com/1JXw9A4EYM— Isabelle Kumar (@Isabelle_kumar) July 25, 2018
Emirates Airline came under fire after they forced a disabled teenager and his family off their flight in Dubai, while they were on their way to France.
Seventeen-year-old Eli Kumar suffers from epilepsy. When he boarded an Emirates flight with his mother, Euronews journalist Isabelle Kumar, and the rest of his family, he was forcibly removed from the flight, despite Kumar showing the attendants Eli’s medical certificate.
The certificate was asked for after Kumar requested an extra seat next to her son, in case he has a seizure.
“I couldn’t initially find the certificate, But I called the doctor, got them to email the certificate which she did immediately,” she said. “Eli’s doctor wanted to speak to the attendants but they refused to speak to her, refused to look at the certificate, and refused to listen to us about Eli’s needs.”
Moreover, Kumar had already called the airline to inform of her son’s needs. Regardless, a medical certificate was presented after the flight attendants’ insistence that it had to be shown to the ground staff.
Despite Kumar being able to present all necessary documents, her family was kicked off the flight, threatened to be called the police on, if they refused to comply.
The Kumar family, including Eli’s 10-year-old twin siblings, was humiliated and forced to get off board.
“The children were crying, Eli was really distressed, he was biting his arm which is how he copes with stress, holding his head in his hands,” she said.
Kumar recounted once off the flight, a medical team was waiting for them, thinking they have had a medical emergency, considering Eli’s condition. When told Eli was doing okay, the medical staff was boggled why the family was not allowed to fly.
“We managed to get him off OK, and there was an emergency medical team waiting. They thought he’d had a medical emergency, but we said he was fine. They couldn’t understand why we had been kicked off. They immediately agreed he was fine to fly, but we were not allowed to re-board. The lack of humanity was really shocking,” Kumar said.
Once kicked off - your staff immediately agreed that he is fine to fly - as he has been with every flight with you @emirates. Now there is no flight home. Kids totally distraught and humiliated. Where is your humanity?— Isabelle Kumar (@Isabelle_kumar) July 25, 2018
According to Kumar, her children were left embarrassed by the incident.
“Travelling with a kid with disabilities is really challenging, we really have to plan it carefully in a lot of ways – so something like this is really disruptive, particularly for Eli. He is totally exhausted, he was very upset when we got taken out, he didn’t understand what was going on,” she said.
Kumar said the poor treatment by the Emirates staff continued when they were at the airport — one staffer suggested they fly to Vienna despite the fact they live in Lyon — and only after her tweet got coverage, the family was treated properly. They were booked onto a flight to Geneva later.
“We were just dumped in an airport, we had to battle to get a hotel and it was only after there was a Twitter storm that they suddenly started treating us correctly,” said Kumar.
Upon arrival in Geneva, Eli had a seizure. Kumar said the exhaustion and lack of sleep led to the otherwise manageable condition.
“Eli is now 17, we know what it takes – we’ve been everywhere and we’ve managed it, but it takes very careful planning which is why this was so disruptive.”
From Geneva they took a $749 transit car to their home town. Emirates officials claim the money would be refunded. However, when the Kumar family landed in Geneva, two of their bags were missing.
Kumar said although she has opted to travel with Emirates several times before, she would now think twice before doing it again.
“It has been very long and very trying, the whole thing has just been so difficult,” she said.
Emirates’ poor handling of the situation was condemned by Tanni Grey-Thompson, winner of numerous Paralympics gold medals.
“This incident raises more questions. Under what assessment process did the member of staff make this decision? What reassurance do passengers have that if they book with any airline they will be able to fly? Instead of encouraging openness, it may encourage people to be less open,” she said.
She said such practices by airlines have made it difficult for disabled individuals to travel freely, “I’m really concerned that issues like this could encourage airlines to demand increased medical certification, or that airlines may not let disabled people fly on their own.”
Epilepsy Action, U.K.’s member-led epilepsy charity, conveyed their concern over the matter.
“Epilepsy can be a very distressing condition in itself and this experience will only have added to that for all concerned,” he said. “[It] is a varied condition which affects everyone in very different ways. We urge travel companies to ensure that their staff is trained in epilepsy first aid so they know what to do if someone has a seizure and how to make them safe,” said deputy executive Simon Wigglesworth.
Epilepsy Action is very concerned to hear that Eli Kumar, who has #epilepsy and #autism, was removed from an Emirates flight, despite having medical clearance to fly.— Epilepsy Action (@epilepsyaction) July 26, 2018
After such a distressing situation for Eli, we hope the whole family gets home safely soon. https://t.co/Y5h7e6ARKp
A spokesperson from Emirates later apologized for the inconvenience caused to the Kumar family.
“Such situations are usually difficult for operational staff to assess, and they opted to act in the best interest of our passengers’ safety as well as on advice from our medical team,” they said.
“Our customer service team has been in touch with the family, and we have offered them a complimentary hotel stay while in transit and rebooked them on another flight departing on 26 July.”
Banner / Thumbnail : REUTERS, Rafael Marchante