Screenshots of a post on the “Singapore Airlines Krisflyer/PPS Club Frequent Flyers” Facebook group last week (9 Apr) have gone viral on private messaging.
The group is a private forum meant for SIA frequent flyers to share “information, opinions, experiences and advice on air travel with Singapore Airlines”.
In the post, a woman was complaining about the bad service provided by Singapore Airlines (SIA). There was no wheelchair waiting for her mother when she arrived in Singapore, the woman said.
“My mom was flying from Delhi to Singapore SQ403. Upon landing 5:56AM SGT, she is supposed to have wheel chair. She was left alone stranded with no service with no wheel chair upon exiting the plane,” complained the woman in her post.
“She waited for 30 mins to wait for wheel chair but no one helped her.”
The woman said the wheelchair has already been pre-booked both ways. “I am so angry on Singapore Airlines at the moment,” she said angrily.
Following her posting, other members of the Facebook group immediately responded defending Singapore Airlines. One member commented that the problem lies with “fake wheelchair users” from India, using up all the available wheelchairs.
“The real problem lies with many fake wheelchair users coming from India,” the member said. “You actually can see for yourself and compare it for yourself against other international cities.”
The member accused the “fake wheelchair users” from India of abusing the wheelchair service in order to bypass immigration and security queues since they will be accorded with priority before other travellers.
Travellers on wheelchairs are also given priority to board the plane first. These “fake wheelchair users” are depriving many genuine disabled travellers of wheelchairs which they really need since the number of wheelchairs is limited in an airport.
“In a typical Delhi to Singapore flight, I once counted 24 wheelchair users…. now that’s a very high number compared to other international cities whereby we see at most four wheelchair users,” he added.
“Many of these fake users upon reaching Changi… can miraculously walk out of the plane and walk to immigration. What I described is true…just observe it yourself.”
Indian media mocks fake wheelchair users in India
The observation from the Facebook user who defended Singapore Airlines is not new. In 2018, Indian mainstream media, Times of India, even wrote an article mocking these fake wheelchair users in India.
Times reported that some of the Indian citizens indeed do use the free wheelchair facility at airports in order to breeze through security and immigration.
“In the vast, global literature on air travel, you probably won’t find any enlightening passages on the miraculous healing powers of airport terminal buildings,” Times sarcastically wrote.
“But talk to frequent fliers and they’ll tell you that these gigantic steel and glass buildings are probably endowed with a strange, obscure energy field that transforms some ‘invalid’ wheelchair users into able-bodied beings who can suddenly walk on their two legs.”
These fake wheelchair users can cut through queues and breeze through the airport security and immigration easily.
An Indian travel agent confirmed that the misuse of wheelchair service at airports is quite rampant in India nowadays, “Till about five years ago, airlines, including Air India, charged for the wheelchair facility. Only those with a medical certificate were provided a wheelchair for free. Then following pressure from various groups, airlines did away with the medical certificate requirement and the field opened up for jugaad (innovative hack). Nowadays, wheelchair use, or rather misuse, is rampant.”
On an Airline Pilot Forum, someone wrote, “Couple of weeks ago I flew Doha to Houston on Qatar Airways. There was an Indian woman in her early 60s who ran like a trackstar up and down the aisles during the flight… only to all of a sudden need a wheelchair to get off the aircraft in IAH. Her angle …u guessed it…straight to the front of the immigration line… done… 2 minutes max while the rest of us waited 20-minutes or so.”
For the airlines, identifying misuse is almost impossible because not all disabilities are visible.
A senior Air India commander, requesting anonymity, confirmed with the Times that, on average, they have about 25-30 wheelchair passengers on board in the Mumbai-Newark and Delhi-San Francisco flights, which have around 340 seats. And on the Delhi-New York flights, even more, wheelchair passengers can be seen.
“But every once in a while, there will be a Newark or ’Frisco flight with close to 50 wheelchair passengers. It’s been happening quite often,” the commander revealed.
A senior Air India cabin crew member also told the Times, “On the days that we have close to 50 wheelchair passengers, we end up waiting for over 45 minutes to deplane as we cannot leave the aircraft till the last passenger has disembarked.”
In the case of the woman who complained about SIA service being bad because her mother couldn’t get a wheelchair, it’s not known if the elderly woman was really disabled enough to require wheelchair service from SIA.