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Airline's refusal of passenger sparks debate

By LUO WANGSHU | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2020-10-20 09:02
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Regulation upgrade sought after carrier blocks traveler dealing with depression

An accusation that an airline refused to allow a passenger being treated for depression to board one of its aircraft has triggered heated debate online, leading experts to call for more detailed regulations to serve passengers' special needs.

A netizen surnamed Yu said in a post on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter-like service, on Oct 14 that Shanghai-based budget carrier Spring Airlines refused to let his girlfriend, who is dealing with depression, board a plane in Weihai, Shandong province, on Oct 13 because of her illness.

Yu accused the airline of discriminating against people with depression. He also said the rejection might have caused his girlfriend to miss a doctor's appointment in Nanjing, Jiangsu province. He wrote that she had cried all night, which might have caused her condition to worsen.

He said she has been taking flights to Nanjing every month to see a doctor who specializes in treating depression, and her condition had been improving a lot.

According to China's civil aviation passenger transport regulations, airlines can refuse to board patients with infectious diseases and mental illnesses or passengers whose health may put themselves or other passengers at risk.

Spring Airlines responded to the controversy in a statement, saying that the passenger and her boyfriend became agitated when staff members asked her about her symptoms and recent flight history. During that conversation, the passenger's depression was mentioned. Her hands trembled and she screamed at the boarding gate, which caused other passengers to complain.

The company said its employees tried to comfort the passenger several times, but she would not calm down. For safety reasons, staff members refused to let the couple board and gave them a full refund.

Some netizens accused the airline of being unsympathetic to passengers with special needs, while others supported its decision, saying it needed to be responsible for other passengers' safety in accordance with regulations.

Zhang Qihuai, a senior lawyer who specializes in civil aviation, said it was not the only case in which a Chinese airline had refused to allow passengers with special needs to fly. He called for more detailed and practical regulations on permitting or refusing boarding for such passengers, adding that current civil aviation transport regulations are decades old.

Zhang said each airline has its own flight standards, as there is no universal one. "Universal regulations should be created, and airlines should ensure they are being carried out," he said.

In the latest case, Zhang said the company was not qualified to say the patient was not fit to fly. Medical professionals should make that determination, he said.

He also said medical institutions should establish a cooperative mechanism for such patients to obtain medical evidence that can show whether they are fit to use public transportation.

Patients and their families should also be aware of their symptoms and conditions and travel capabilities.

Guo Xiamei, an associate professor who specializes in mental illness at Xiamen University, said amid the COVID-19 pandemic, people are paying more attention to mental health and are demanding more humane treatment.

"Airlines can do better," she said.

She added, however, that exposing such problems online, as Yu did, may not help ease symptoms of depression.


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