Airline apologises over removal of boy with epilepsy from flight

Family forced from plane despite having medical clearance and certificate to fly

Isabelle Kumar said her children were left distraught after being removed from the aircraft. Photograph:  Caren Firouz/Reuters

Isabelle Kumar said her children were left distraught after being removed from the aircraft. Photograph: Caren Firouz/Reuters


Emirates staff forced a disabled teenager and his family to leave a plane because he has epilepsy, despite the fact he had a medical certificate and clearance to fly.

Eli, the son of the Euronews journalist Isabelle Kumar, had boarded a flight on Wednesday from Dubai to France – the final leg of a long-haul journey from New Zealand via Australia. But when Kumar asked for a seat adjacent to a vacant seat in case he had a seizure, they asked to see his medical certificate.

The family presented the certificate to flight attendants, who said it needed to be shown to ground staff. When the family called Eli’s doctor in France to confirm he was able to fly, they refused to speak to the medical professional.

Kumar told Euronews: “We told Emirates every step of the way that Eli had epilepsy (and autism), but when we asked for a seat with a vacant seat next to it in case he had a seizure, they suddenly wanted to see the medical certificate.”

Attendants then threatened to call the police if the family did not leave the plane, Kumar said.

“It was the lack of humanity that we found really shocking. The staff were faced with a kid with severe disabilities, but they threatened to call the police if we didn’t get off, even though our bags were still on the plane,” Kumar said.

“They had every opportunity not to be so intransigent.”

The family disembarked the plane, and ground staff acknowledged Eli had the right to fly, but would not let them re-board, she said.

Kumar said the incident had left her children distraught.

“Eli is very distressed, he can’t understand what is happening. My twins were in tears, they felt humiliated,” she said.

Following hours of confusion at the airport, Kumar said a solution was reached with the airline for the family to travel on a flight to Geneva on Thursday.

The incident left them “demoralised and exhausted”, Kumar said.

“You face endless challenges having a kid with disabilities, and being treated with respect would help, but we never give up and this won’t stop us travelling as a family. I will think twice before travelling with Emirates though,” she said.

Tanni Grey-Thompson, who won 11 Paralympic gold medals from 1992 to 2004, said she was “extremely disappointed” by the way Emirates had appeared to handle the situation.

Although medical certificates were necessary in “very limited circumstances”, it made no sense to ignore one once produced.

“This incident raises more questions. Under what assessment process did the member of staff make this decision? What reassurance do passengers have that if they book with any airline they will be able to fly? Instead of encouraging openness, it may encourage people to be less open,” she said.

Travel was becoming harder for disabled people in many circumstances, she added. “I’m really concerned that issues like this could encourage airlines to demand increased medical certification, or that airlines may not let disabled people fly on their own,” Grey-Thompson said.

Epilepsy Action said: “Epilepsy Action is very concerned to hear that Eli Kumar, who has epilepsy and autism, was removed from an Emirates flight, despite having medical clearance to fly. After such a distressing situation for Eli, we hope the whole family gets home safely.”

An Emirates spokesperson said the airline was “very sorry for any distress and inconvenience caused to Ms Kumar and her family”.

“Such situations are usually difficult for operational staff to assess, and they opted to act in the best interest of our passengers’ safety as well as on advice from our medical team,” they said.

“Our customer service team has been in touch with the family, and we have offered them a complimentary hotel stay while in transit and re-booked them on another flight departing on 26 July.” – Guardian