Author wins action against Aer Arann over scooter

 

A WOMAN has welcomed a finding by the Equality Tribunal that Aer Arann discriminated against her when its handling agents refused to accept her mobility scooter because of its battery type.

Children’s author Corina Duyn said she felt vindicated by the tribunal’s ruling that she had been discriminated against by the airline on grounds of disability.

The Equality Tribunal awarded Ms Duyn €3,000 and ordered Aer Arann to conduct a review of its policies and procedures regarding scooter batteries.

Ms Duyn, who is originally from the Netherlands but now lives in Lismore, Co Waterford, made the complaint to the tribunal on foot of an incident at Cork airport on August 26th, 2009.

She was due to fly with Aer Arann to attend the Edinburgh Book Festival and contacted Aer Arann on August 19th, 2009, and informed the airline she would be travelling with her mobility scooter.

Ms Duyn said she informed Aer Arann it was a Rio 3 lite scooter, powered by a non-spillable battery compliant with International Air Transport Association standards.

She checked in at Cork airport an hour before departure and showed the handling agents, Servisair, a manufacturer’s notice confirming the battery’s compliance with regulations.

However, as she was about to board the aircraft, she was approached by a Servisair employee who told her Aer Arann did not carry such batteries and she could not board the flight, and that her suitcase had been removed.

Ms Duyn told the tribunal she “felt like a criminal” and was forced to cancel her trip.

She said the episode damaged her confidence in her ability to travel independently. The battery met International Air Transport Association standards and she had travelled with it on Aer Lingus without any difficulty.

British Airways, Continental Airlines and Virgin all allowed it on their aircraft.

Aer Arann told the hearing Ms Duyn told staff when booking her flight that her scooter contained a dry-cell battery and that if she had told them it was a wet battery they would have advised her of the difficulties.

They offered to bring her on the next flight at no cost and she would be offered the meet-and-assist service at Edinburgh airport.

When she asked for a refund, they immediately gave her back her money.

Aer Arann said it conducted a full review of its policy regarding the transport of wet-cell batteries and found three incidents in which wet-cell batteries had leaked or ignited either on board an aircraft or before loading.

It believed that to facilitate the carriage of wet-cell batteries the company would have to provide additional training for all its ground staff, airline crew and handling agents at a cost of €20,000 to €30,000.

Equality officer Orlaith Mannion said there was a conflict of evidence between Ms Duyn and Aer Arann on what type of battery she informed the airline she had, but she found Ms Duyn’s version to be more compelling.

She rejected complaints by Ms Duyn that she was victimised and harassed by Aer Arann’s handling of her plight but did find she was discriminated against on the grounds of disability.

An Aer Arann spokesman told The Irish Timesthe company would not be making any comment on the ruling or whether it would appeal until it had an opportunity to study the decision with its lawyers.