26 August, 2019

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Sri Lankan Airline, Disabled Passengers, Medical Certificates Etc

By Bandula Kothalawala –

Dr. Bandula Kothalawala

Dr. Bandula Kothalawala

Once again Sri Lankan Airlines is in the news, not surprisingly, for all the wrong reasons. While the lurid details of the extent of the alleged abuses by the top management of the airline have been well publicized and may have even attracted some interest from TV drama producers in Sri Lanka, it seems that the travails of its passengers have received scant attention from any quarter. I should like to put on record my recent ordeal with the airline.

I am a disabled person on a wheelchair. On 25 March 2014, I made a booking on the Sri Lankan Airline’s website on UL 0504 to travel to Colombo to attend the funeral of my brother who, I had just learnt, died of terminal cancer. I contacted the Airline’s office in Colombo immediately afterwards to check whether the booking was OK and request wheelchair assistance. To my surprise, I was told that the Airline’s rules and procedures required passengers to be able to walk unaided up to their seats and that, if they could not, they should produce a medical certificate signed by a doctor. I pleaded with the Airline officials in subsequent phone conversations to help me out in the circumstances and also informed them that I had travelled on Sri Lankan Airlines flights on four occasions (eight trips in total) to and from Colombo since October 2011 and that the last trip was made in November 2013, without ever having to produce any medical certificate.

I also explained to them that I had my own wheelchair, that I could go right up to the aircraft door, if necessary, which I often do, and that I needed assistance only to go to the seat. The officials concerned were unwilling to listen to me and steadfastly refused to provide any assistance without a medical certificate, which contravenes the interpretative guidelines from the European Commission on the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when travelling by air[1]. Please, see Q2 which clearly states that “the Regulation does not impose an obligation on disabled persons to provide evidence of their disability or reduced mobility (whether medical or other) in order to justify the assistance required. Thus carriers are not allowed to ask for such a proof as a precondition of selling a ticket or permitting carriage.” As far as I am aware, the Sri Lankan Airline website does not publish details of any restrictions on the carriage of disabled persons or persons with reduced mobility, as required by the EU regulation concerned which could have served as a warning against making the booking. After a lengthy conversation with the Airline officials, I had no alternative, but to request that the booking be cancelled. I had no other reason whatsoever to cancel the booking. Not only was the BA alternative more expensive at £609.27 compared to £580.75 already paid to Sri Lankan Airlines, but it was also more inconvenient, the return flight (BA 2042)landing at 23.25BST at Gatwick on 3 April 2014. Moreover, the booking with Sri Lankan Airlines was made at 16.41GMT on 25 March 2014 whereas the booking with British Airways was made at 18.38GMT on the same day after all attempts to secure assistance proved unsuccessful.

On 26 March 2014, I requested the Airline by email to keep the recordings of the phone conversations between their office and me for future reference, for I was concerned that the Airline might deny their insistence on a medical certificate. (Sri Lankan Airlines informs callers that phone conversations are recorded for training and quality purposes). I did not receive any response other than the automatic acknowledgement of the receipt of the message.

In response to my request for a refund of the fare – £580.75, the Airline confirmed to me in an e-mail message on 26 March 2014, that they would deduct £150.00 from the refund due to me and that they would reimburse only £430.75 and ask me to accept the offer. In my reply, I asked them not to proceed with the refund procedures until I had time to seek advice on the matter.

On 3 April 2014, I went to the BIA at about 09.30, although my return flight (BA 2042) was at 14.30, in the hope of finding an amicable settlement of the issue. I approached the Passenger Service Unit of the Sri Lankan Airlines, explained what happened and asked if I could see one of their managers. I was curtly told that they were too busy to see me. I contacted the Airline at the first opportunity from Male in the Maldives during the stopover when the use of phones was allowed and had a long conversation with an official in a final attempt to find an amicable solution. The official who gave his name as Mohammed said, inter alia, that, without the names of the officials who insisted on the medical certificate, he could not do anything, that the cancellation was made at my request, and that the deduction of £150.00 was normal. When I pointed out that the Airline could easily find the names of the officials involved from the recordings of the conversations on 25 March 2014, that I had specifically requested them to keep the recordings for future reference and that they had failed even to reply to it, he simply repeated that he could not do anything without my providing the names of the officials concerned. Although the official concerned was not willing to admit that the Airline had demanded a medical certificate as a precondition for the provision of wheelchair assistance, there is irrefutable evidence that they were well aware of it, for, in an email message to me on Friday 28 March 2014, an official called Nisha said the following:

Dear Dr. Bandula,

Thank you for contacting Sir Lankan Airlines. Apologize for the delay in response and for the inconvenience caused. With reference to the complaint our staff had requested for the Meda Form since the passenger is disabled. Meda form was requested in order to check whether the medical assistance is needed and to allocate the Wheel chair assistance. Tks, Nisha.

In the course of my duties as a member of the European Union and International Relations Department of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), I have travelled to various destinations in Europe, Asia, Africa and North and South America in the last 20 years, mostly on BA flights, of which I am an executive club member. Never has any airline demanded a medical certificate as a precondition to provide wheelchair assistance for me. Nor have I had to pay a fine for a cancellation necessitated by the circumstances totally beyond my control.

In April 2014, I made a complaint to the UK Civil Aviation Authority to secure the reimbursement of the fare and the difference between Sri Lankan Airlines and BA fares which amounted to £28.52. I also made a complaint to Mr Kapila Chandrasena, CEO, but did not even receive an acknowledgement. Sri Lankan Airlines ignored messages from the CAA for five months. It was only in September 2014 – six months after the incident – that the airline finally agreed to refund the full fare. The CAA had also asked the airline to refund the difference in fares (£28.52). To my utter surprise, the airline, in a letter dated 17 Oct 2014, insisted that I fill in and sign a form which included the following clause:

“I HEREBY agree to indemnify Sri Lankan Airlines Limited, its servants, agents from and against all further claims by whomsoever made in respect of the said loss and/or damage and flight.”

I had to seek legal advice due to the sweeping nature of the wording and was advised not to sign it, as it is clearly in breach of the consumer protection regulations in the UK (Unfair terms in consumer contracts regulations 1999 -Regulation 5(5), Schedule 2, (1) I, in particular).

In my letter dated 29 Oct 2014, I informed the airline that I had no problem with filling in the form and signing it without this particular clause in full, final and complete settlement of the matter, which would protect the airline against any further claim by me or by anyone acting on my behalf. The airline has yet to reply to my letter!

I am fully aware that my experience pales into insignificance compared to the colossal waste and endemic corruption allegedly afflicting the airline. Nevertheless, I believe that Mr Weliamuna and his team should also know how the airline treats its passengers and handles their complaints.


[1] Interpretative Guidelines on the Application of Regulation(EC) No 1107/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 July 2006 concerning the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when travelling by air, Brussels, 11.6.2012, SWD (2012), 171 Final

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Latest comments

  • 13
    4

    I have stopped travelling on Sri Lankan from 2003 and at times spend 30% more in other airlines like SIA/Cathay to avoid these issues as well as the safety.

    • 2
      3

      I couldn’t agree more. The three airlines I both travel and swear by are SIA (undoubtably very particular on safety measures), Cathay and Emirates

  • 21
    0

    Srianka has it own rules and regulations or you have get approval from minister , president or his family to get the special treatment
    We just learned the crew are too busy to transferring luggage to MR’s son Rohitha

  • 17
    0

    The letter they meant to send.

    Dear Dr. Bandula, thank you for your lucid expose of how we treat disabled passengers. I am sure you appreciate that absolutely nothing will be done about it.

    Tks.

  • 14
    0

    @ Dr. Bandula: you seems to be a man of the world, why dont you take legal action again the airline, regarding not respecting the valid avaition regulations for carriers flying to and forth in EU and demanding reimbursment of all costs (even telefon call charges) surcharges and legal advice or counseling costs with respect to this matter.

    • 0
      0

      I totally admire Dr. Bandula for his perseverence. As for Sanchay’s advice to take legal action, I would share Dr. Bandula’s mind not to rub SriLankan’s nose in the ground for their bloody-mindedness, which after all reflects badly on all of Sri Lanka. This appear to be a malady common with most of Sri Lanka’s officialdoms. You cannot imagine the problem I have with my bank that has branches all over the world, to show the payer’s name when money is being credited. This is a fundamental requirement in combating money laundering which other banks insist on showing if requested not to. But the Sri Lankan branch have their own rules.

  • 10
    0

    It would be interesting to know how SriLankan is going to respond to this(if at all they have the courtesy to do) and the rationale behind in insisting for MEDA clearance when a wheel chair is requested for.This certainly does not come under any recommended practice as adopted by IATA.If only those who are reponsible at SriLankan care to check what other reputed Airlines practise they will simply realize how far back they are on Customer service.

  • 6
    13

    HOW SAD! This happened to a Sinhalese gentleman.

    • 14
      0

      It does not matter to which race he belongs. The fact is he is a disabled person
      who has travelled widely. This is something one would not expect from any airline.
      The matter deserves to receive the best attention.

      • 2
        0

        SL mess up passengers big time with misleading info. I was Informed that I was entitled to a one free change of date as this was a last minute decision. However, when I did want to change the date. I was asked to pay 500 GBP extra. When I was booking the ticket. I was told. I had to purchase the ticket immediately as that was the last seat available. However, there were lots of empty seats when. I got in the plane.(more than 50) I raised this. Issue with. S L and they informed me that would have been cancellations.

    • 2
      7

      Yes aney how sad! If it was a Tamil fellow then no problem no?

      • 5
        1

        you are one racist scumbag aren’t you?

    • 10
      0

      JD,

      What a racist you are? What is so special about being a Singhalese???? What about Burghers, Tamils, Malays, Muslims. The only special case here is that this gentleman is disabled. Don’t try to make this an ethnic issue.

    • 3
      0

      Dont involve racism here. be civilised little bit.

  • 9
    5

    Understand the plight of the Passenger but unfortunately many Srilankans coming in from the UK request wheelchairs just to helpthem selves to be assisted to clear customs and immigration.There were as many as 20 wheelchair requests at times.
    To circumvent this the airline had to impose some kind of authority to determine wx it was a bonafide case.

    The pax are told this at the time of ticketing if they request for a wheel chair and I dont see why he/she cant comply with this without much ado.

    The question of EU does not arise and the airline has to curtail th
    is type of fraudulent attempts by passengers

    • 2
      6

      saliya,Did the sla help you with a woman for a nightnout?

    • 5
      1

      Saliya,
      well there maybe certain validity in what you are saying but it does not go well with customer service.If the issue is of such proportions all what the Airline could do is to simply inform the passenger that an additional payment is due (but without a MEDA clearance)if only a wheel chair is required on account of passengers limited mobility.
      On the other hand I wonder how the other Airlines that operates to Sri Lanka manage this issue ?

    • 8
      0

      Totally agree with this comment. It is a well known fact that parents of Sri Lankans abroad get disabled between Katunayake and the destination airport and vice versa. It is a purposeful manipulation and wanton misuse of the facilities available for the disabled. It is disgusting to see these thoughtless people boasting about how they took advantage of the system
      It is sad that genuine disabled people have to pay a price as a result

    • 0
      0

      Dear Saliya, I was watching in YouTube the Scientology ploy of shutting out adverse comments. They have fictitious account holders to flood the comments with scams in order to drown the original adverse comment. I suspect you and your cohorts, Lakshman,PEIRIS and others are the scammers employed to counter the totally legitimate and credible comments by Dr.Bandula. You are wasting your time.

  • 8
    0

    Dear Bandulna, I sympathise with you for all troubles you had to undergo with the actions of Airlanka personnel. Unfortunately, this is the strict way they treat their clients but the whole airline was misused by the family members of MR as it was a backdoor property of their grand parents and Treasury has to pay taxpayers money to settle the losses.
    ALL FOR THE LOVE OF THE PEOPLE.

  • 5
    0

    BK’s Family Physician would have readily given the Medical Certificate – not that I condone the airline’s behaviour.
    He should have known that in this Dharmadwipa, nothing is as it should be, according to legal and moral principles.
    If he had visited an SLA office in UK in his wheelchair, this would not have happened.

    Years ago, a very old lady known to me, did so in Colombo, and was lifted up to the cabin door of the aircraft from the ground, and was assisted while she walked to her seat with her cane – she could not climb steps, but could walk slowly with her cane.
    At her destination, she was similarly lifted down to ground level.
    All airlines, on principle, protect themselves against claims by passengers.

  • 6
    1

    Dr.Bandula, why go through all these hassle? If you had called a politician in Sri Lanka, you would have got a seat in the first class cabin free of charge with all the necessary assistance provided that you pay the fee of the ticket to the said politician :)

    This is Sri Lanka. The international rules that help international conspiracies are not applicable in Sri Lanka.. ;) at least until the 8th of January 2015.. :P

    • 3
      1

      DR BANDULA,
      NEXT TIME USE ANOTHER AIR LINE. THEY SAY EMIRATES IS BRILLIANT COMPARED TO SRI LANKAN.
      I ALWAYS USE EMERATES. STOPPED US=ING SRI LANKAN SINCE THAT BLOODY RAJAPAKSE IN HIS INFITE IDIOCITY DECIDED TO NATIONALISE THE AIRLINE.

  • 8
    0

    Well your lucky that you got back the money after many months..coz all the money goes to Mr and his clowns

  • 7
    0

    Sir,
    I am sorry to hear of your ordeal. You should have just proceeded with a law suite against the airline. Unfortunately Sri Lankan companies, including some of its hotels, no nothing about customer service. The Sri Lankan smile we were once known has been replaced with sheer arrogance.

    I strongly believe this behavioural change in our people came about with the Rajapakse government when people from all quarters of Sri Lankan life started behaving like thugs. Whether it is on the road, a hotel, a school meeting, a police station, the airline or the cricket board the nature of people are such, that they want to adopt an aggressive stance towards anything. Of course there a few pleasant exceptions which keeps strains to keep the reputation of our country in tact.

  • 6
    1

    In this instance it seems the traveller has a genuine disability. In defense of Sri Lankan ( Rarely possible) there is a big trick used by many Sri Lankans and Indians to request wheel chair assistance to facilitate easier boarding and customs clearance.

    The airline pays for these services at both ends and it is NOT FAIR when it is abused. What was the issue for the passenger to get a doctor to certify his need? Just asking?

  • 2
    0

    @Upul. This is not his first travel as a disabled. He claims to have traveled all over the world and 8 times on SLA alone. This is the first time a MC was demanded. Yes, in here you can get a MC within a few minutes ;you know how, but not in UK.

  • 4
    3

    The victory against the most terrible Tigers has given the Sri Lankans so much self-confidence and pride which some times comes as arrogance to tohers. Be patient.

  • 1
    0

    STOPPED TRAVELLING WITH SRI LANKAN WHEN THAT KNOB RAJAPAKSE STARTED INTERFERING IN THE AIRLINE AND IT WAS DOWNHILL EVER SINCE.
    KEEP THAT STUPID MAN OUT OF POLITICS AND HE WILL MAKE SRI LANKA GO DOWNHILL AS HE WAS ABOUT TO DO BEFORE PEOPLE KICKED THE BASTARD OUT,

  • 0
    2

    Don’t bother yourself too much. Just fly another airlines next time. For the airline you lodge the complaint it’s another matter of disabled passengers cry and cry it loud but no one would hear. So forget it. It just adds more pain to you.

  • 0
    2

    Rajapkse cronies spoiled the reputation, service and profit of Sri Lankan Air with their unqualified staffs and very unprofessional recruitment procedure!!!
    Very sad!!!

  • 1
    0

    Pathetic incident, I feel sorry for Dr. Bandula.

    Sometimes the people in the UK are helpless when it comes to choosing the airliner due to only Sri Lankan airlines (SLA) offer direct flights to Colombo. I fly at least once every 4 months to Sri Lanka from London and I too have experienced very unpleasant incidents with SLA. Few years ago, I travelled with my wife and she was midway through her pregnancy. She requested a drink from a stewardess and I remember the stewardess was saying “we are soon going to serve a round of drinks to the passengers so can you wait till then”. I couldn’t believe what I heard. At least the stewardess should have had some respect to a pregnant woman and offered her a drink. There was another incident where I had to fight with the SLA staff at the UK office to credit my daughter’s ‘YoungSmiles’ points due to SLA fault. I could write a few more these.

    Overall, SLA has to improve a lot and especially in the customer handling/services area. I have seen how they treat / talk to the passengers who board the air craft from the Middle East countries. Think.. We are all humans.

    • 0
      0

      Being an Airline employee for more than 35 years and 20 years of which with Air Lanka/SriLankan it is really sad to read about the negative comments on Service standards of the Airline. Nevertheless Through personal experience as well as that of close associates regretfully though I have to agree that the Airline has since late seen a gradual decline in Customer service inter alia.This perhaps could be attributed to the politicization of the top Management and resultant indifference shown by the rest of the staff whose priority would have been to please their political masters and their lackeys.

      It would take a massive effort to rebuild the customer confidence and that is not likely to happen even under the present Board of Directors or the Senior Management whose lack of professionalism is the biggest issue.Privatization may be the only solution available if to save the Airline

  • 1
    0

    Hellow Dr Bandula Ktalawela. two pints.
    Every airline in the world would expect and for that matter insist if they wish for a medical certificate. You obviouly living in a western country wxpect specicial privilages from not so developed countries like sri lanka. You have the audacity to seek compensation like the europeans and americans where every body else is to blame and seeking compensation is the name of the game – sign of decadence.
    Secodly you may not be aware that the the most notorious person to make air lanka bankrupt was one wickramanayake close relative and hand picked man of J R Jayawardena and a relative of Ranil Wickramasinghe.
    Ater 4 years as Air lanka he bought a property in an exclusively posh suberb in Surrey, U K, which you and I can only dream of. It is preposterous that Ranil now appoints one of his henchman as the inquirer and produces a one-man report in such quick time. What more could you expect from J R’s nephew and a relative of the first general manager of Sri lankan airlines.

  • 0
    0

    It is sad what happened to Dr. bandula. But I must say, in and out to london, there are at least 20 wheelchairs. As some one mentioned it is to get assistance to clear immigration and to carry there bags. Also, there is another thing add up to the problem. Its the transit elderly passengers who is going to canada. As per the information, sri lankan who lives in canada bring there old parents to the state to look after there kids and mostly, they can clame support on elders a d it is a big money. But the sad part is, they make there old parents travel on there own because there too gready to come and take them cos it’s expensive. So, the best way is to use sri lankan airlines wheelchair sevice. May be its not a big deal in Sri Lanka to push a whealchair , but in Europe, its a professional job and they charge a lot for it. I’m sad for Dr, Bandula, but it was ruined for him by the selfish people living in those countrys who went from sri lanka.

  • 0
    0

    I take this opportunity to thank the Colombo Telegraph and those who expressed sympathy for me. I have absolutely no problem with dissenting views. However, I must stress that in my first conversation with Sri Lankan Airlines I made it clear to them that I was travelling with my own wheelchair and that I needed assistance only to go to my seat. In other words, the airline only had to provide the on-board isle chair, which they steadfastly refused to do. Please, also note that reputed airlines like BA use different codes for passengers on wheelchairs and for the elderly who request wheelchair assistance.
    In any event, all airlines operating flights from, and landing in, airports in the EU have to comply with EU rules and regulations which clearly indicate that the airlines have no right to request medical certificates from disabled passengers. Moreover, Sri Lankan Airlines should explicitly warn passengers on their website about their strict criteria for wheelchair assistance if they experience difficulties in providing it . It is not right for the airline to let an unsuspecting disabled passenger book a flight on their website, refuse wheelchair assistance later and confiscate about 25% of the fare as a “cancellation fee”. I should also like to point out that the UK Civil Aviation Authority would not have upheld my complaint if Sri Lankan Airlines had been able to convince them that they had a valid reason to refuse wheelchair assistance.
    I am sorry that I cannot respond to “gigurawa”. I am unable to make head or tail of his/her points.
    Bandula Kothalawala

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