Traveler Refuses To Pay Airline's Hefty Wheelchair Lift
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
June 3, 2004
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA--Russell Vollmer got a surprise last Saturday when he prepared to take the two-hour flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg on Nationwide Airlines, the news agency Independent Online reported.
Vollmer, who is quadriplegic, knew from his travel agent that he would have to pay extra -- he was told about 300 rand ($47 US) -- for the discount air carrier staff to lift him and his wheelchair on and off the aircraft.
What he hadn't expected was that the actual cost of the service would be more than the air fare itself -- 1,580 rand ($248 US) for the round-trip.
"I normally travel with other airlines but I thought I would try Nationwide for a change because their fees are very cheap," said Vollmer, who is Commodore of the Royal Cape Yacht Club.
"That made the additional cost of the passenger assistance unit more than my air fare," he said.
Vollmer refused to pay the fee. He cancelled his ticket with Nationwide and bought another from a different airline that did not charge for using its passenger aid unit.
Nationwide Airlines operations manager Johan Borstlap told IOL that the company charged wheelchair users because the airline does not have its own passenger aid unit.
"This is an unfortunate situation but we do not have a lift of our own, Borstlap said. "It is a direct cost to us and we are passing it on to the passenger."
Mzolisi Toni, secretary-general of Disabled People of South Africa, said he was shocked that the airline charged such passengers for the service.
Earlier this year a British court found discount airline Ryanair guilty of discriminating against passenger Bob Ross because it charged him a £18 fee (about $28 US) each way to provide him a wheelchair at Stansted Airport in England. In January, the court ordered Ryanair to pay Ross £1,336 ($2,435 US).
Ryanair immediately announced that it would add 50 pence to every passenger ticket -- regardless of whether they use a wheelchair -- to cover the cost. One member of Parliament accused the airline of "blatant profiteering", noting that the actual cost to Ryanair would be closer to 2 pence per passenger.