The woman has muscular dystrophy and requires the use of a walking aid and had to mount the steps of the aircraft when no wheelchair lift was made available to her.
The woman took an Equal Status discrimination case to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) against two airlines involved in operating the air-link from Ireland to an unnamed city in England.
In her findings concerning the passenger’s complaint against one of the airlines, WRC Adjudication Officer, Catherine Byrne found that the airline – which took the woman’s booking – failed to do all that was reasonable to ensure that the woman received the service that she requested.
Ms Byrne stated that this failure caused her “unnecessary distress, inconvenience and humiliation”.
Ms Byrne found that the woman “was discriminated against on the ground of her disability” and her complaint “is well-founded”.
Ms Byrne has also ordered that the airline put in place a process to check that, at boarding and disembarking, where a passenger with a disability or reduced mobility has requested assistance, that such assistance is provided.
In the woman’s online booking, she indicated she required wheelchair assistance because she has difficulty walking long distances, and she cannot manage the aircraft steps.
A wheelchair lift was provided for the airline for her outbound flight, but no lift was provided for her return flight on December 16th 2019.
As a result, the complainant said that she “had no choice but to climb the steep steps on to the plane.”
The woman was assisted by a member of the ground crew, a minibus driver, who pushed her up the steps and helped her to lift her legs, while she supported herself by clinging on to the rails.
After getting to her seat on the aircraft, the woman wrote an email to the airline complaining about her experience.
In the email presented to the WRC hearing, she stated: “To say I was deeply humiliated by this ordeal would be a gross understatement.”
She stated that two members of the cabin crew witnessed all this from the top of the steps and “despite not coming to my aid, they expressed their shock at what they had witnessed”.
The woman added: “My legs were like weak and throbbing when I got up the steps and my back ached also. I’m sitting on the plane writing this at the moment and I honestly am so upset.”
She stated that the two air hostesses on the plane “were very kind and compassionate. They promised me a lift in Dublin which was provided”.
The following day, the airline, which took the booking, replied to apologise.
The airline letter stated: “We have always been conscious of the importance of providing a reliable service and we expect the highest level of care from our handling agents. I am really sorry of not meeting your expectation by not being able to use the service that you specifically requested.”
The letter added: “Your feedback on how difficult the situation you endured during your travel with us is duly noted and I can assure you that we are always working to minimise the inconvenience.”
Levels of service
The company employed to provide wheelchair lifts at the airport also apologised to the woman stating that a communication error led to her not receiving the required assistance.
The company’s customer relations official said that “this level of service falls very short of the service we expect to deliver”.
The woman told the WRC that her experience was “point-blank discrimination and humiliation”.
The woman alleged that one crew member was aware of the request for special assistance, but is alleged to have told the woman because there were “only two or three steps she should be able to manage”.
The airline did not attend the hearing.
Ireland making ‘clear progress’ says CMO but Level 5 likely for February
Dr Tony Holohan added the incidence of the virus in Ireland is now 10 times higher than it was when the Government eased public health restrictions in December and the country’s efforts to drive down the rate of infection must be maintained.
His comments come after Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Level 5 restrictions will likely continue “well into” February.
Speaking at the National Public Health Emergency Team’s (Nphet) briefing Dr Holohan said: “On December 1st, when we last eased restrictions, our five-day moving average was 261 cases per day, today it is almost 10 times that number at 2,430 cases per day.
“It is evident that the population is working as one to reduce contacts and interrupt further transmission of the disease. However, we are witnessing the effects of high levels of community transmission through our hospital and ICU admissions and reported deaths.
“We need to continue to work together to drive this infection down and bring the disease back under control.”
It comes as the chief executive of the HSE said the Covid-19 situation in hospitals is at the “highest level of concern that we’ve ever had”.
Thursday saw a further 51 deaths due to Covid-19 and 2,608 new cases of Covid-19 recorded by the Department of Health.
Of the cases notified today:
•1,230 are men / 1,346 are women
•55% are under 45 years of age
•The median age is 42 years old
•1,019 in Dublin, 204 in Cork, 135 in Donegal, 132 in Galway, 131 in Kildare, and the remaining 987 cases are spread across all other counties.
— Department of Health (@roinnslainte) January 21, 2021
Asked how long Covid-19 restrictions may remain in place Dr Holohan said Nphet did not have any reason to disagree with the Taoiseach’s expectations that Level 5 would continue for a number of weeks.
Dr Holohan said: “We have a very significant burden of infection. Looking at infection levels two weeks ago: they were very high, clearly very high.
“We’ve now reduced substantially in relative terms since then, but we have to look back to the beginning of December. We’re still 10 times higher.”
“It is simply a level of infection that’s way too high,” he added.
“We have further progress we have to make.”
The Taoiseach told Virgin Media’s Ireland AM that transmission rates of the virus were still too high to ease restrictions.
The Cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19 is expected to meet on Monday to finalise plans to extend the current restrictions before Cabinet ministers approve the measures at a meeting on Tuesday.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn told the briefing that more than 500 people had died of Covid-19 in Ireland so far this month.
He warned that the trend was expected to continue over the coming days.
Coronavirus latest data: How many cases are there…
“Sadly so far in the month of January there have been 532 deaths associated with Covid-19,” he said. “This compares with a total of 174 such deaths in the month of December and 164 such deaths in November.”
Earlier it emerged Dr Holohan had warned the Government last week that the death toll was likely to be up to 1,000 by the end of the month.
In a letter to the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly on January 14th, Dr Holohan said the latest modelling data suggested that there could be at least 25 to 30 deaths a day.
Revenue seize €32,000-worth of drugs at Dublin Mail Centre
Over 1.5kg of illegal drugs, including herbal cannabis and cannabis infused ‘jelly sweets’ were discovered with the assistance of detector dogs Bailey and Sam.
The drugs were found in parcels which had come from the US and UK which had been declared as clothing, tea, a backpack, an incense burner, and a candle set.
The parcels were being sent to various addresses in Dublin, Offaly, Kilkenny, Clare and Kildare.
Revenue say investigations are ongoing and anyone with information regarding smuggling is asked to contact the Revenue Confidential Line on 1800 295 295.