A boy denied the right to fly.
At Changi Airport, on 30 December 2004, at 23:30 hours, I was onboard Air France flight FR257L. Seated on the row immediately behind myself were a couple with an autistic young gentleman. Prior to departure, the trio were told to leave the aircraft. Their baggage were unloaded. The flight was delayed.
According to UK Air France website, customer services could only be reached by post. So, on 13 January 2005, I wrote to Air France UK querying the grounds by which the decision was made. I have yet to hear of any reply.
On 18 February 2005, I sent an email to Air France Singapore, presenting the same query. The reply was,
Please be informed that at all times, the airline has the responsibility to protect the identity of all our passengers for security reasons. Please kindly inform us of the names of the party you are mentioning - without these, we are unable to investigate into this claim. Also, please kindly advise your relationship to this party too.
I responded by clarifying: 1) I was just another passenger, hence could not provide their names; 2) the details I provided uniquely identified the flight, on which the incident described was a singular event which could not have escaped their records; 3) I fully understood the airline's concern in protecting their passengers' identity -- but there should be no ambiguity that I was querying Air France's decision, not the identity of the trio. I believe I have the right to enquire as a passenger -- I provided full identity of myself, including my frequent flyer ID from which further details could be retrieved.
I have not heard from Air France Singapore since.
Personally, I preferred to have the autistic young gentleman fly with us all the way to Paris. He was unlikely to be loud throughout the 13 hours, as I would not expect anybody to have sustained interest and energy for being loud for 13 hours. However, even if he was to be loud throughout, it would only be 13 hours. All right, considering the worst case scenario, we might not be able to rest throughout the long-haul flight -- so what? People carry it for life, not 13 days or 13 months. Hostility towards the couple was unfounded. After all, that child was everybody's.
Babies use air travel, and they cry. Yet babies are always granted the right to fly. If there are no medical grounds suggesting that a passenger could cause bodily harm to anybody, I see no reason for him to be excluded.
Additionally, I think the young gentleman was getting agitated because of the hostility built up within the aircraft. Rejection was in the air. That caused him to be noisy. As pleaded by the couple, he would calm down once the plane took off. The officers' reply was, "We understand... " but then they proceeded to ask the trio to leave.
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