Travelers with disabilities who plan to use the bathroom on the airplane and who cannot manage on their own must travel with a companion.
A story first reported on the foreign language website Apple Daily describes a harrowing experience for an EVA Air flight attendant during a flight from Los Angeles to Taipei, Taiwan. A male passenger is said to have exposed himself to the all-female cabin crew and demanded improper assistance while using the lavatory.
The story first came to light after the flight attendant took to Facebook to describe what had occurred. The following is translated from the original article and describes the interaction between the flight attendant and passenger:
"We helped him into the toilet. I didn’t expect him to say immediately, my underwear was half off, now No way to go, you help me off." The flight attendant continued to state: "Looking at him sitting on the toilet, his legs open, the genitals are in front of my eyes, I covered it with a blanket and told him that I could not help. It was not convenient to help him pull the underwear. As a result, the other party returned. "I am only half off my pants. How do you want me to go to the toilet? Come in and help me out! You just promised to help me!" The flight attendant had to make it difficult. With gloves to help him take off his underwear."
The passenger first asked for help with pulling down his pants, which he had only been able to pull down halfway on his own. The flight attendant protested, but eventually helped him remove his underwear.
After using the toilet, Taiwan English News reports that the man "asked the flight attendant to wipe his bottom."
She refused, saying, "This is really too much. The cabin crew are all female, and we don’t have a male team member. No one can help you."
When the flight attendant rejected his request for help, the passenger became upset. To avoid the continued disturbance of other passengers, she ultimately donned several pairs of gloves and cleaned his bottom.
During a press conference organized by the Taoyuan Flight Attendants Union and reported on by The Daily Mail, the flight's chief purser recalled, "He said: 'Oh, mmm, deeper, deeper,' and then accused my chief attendant of not properly cleaning his backside, requesting that she do it again."
The incident has been described as "upsetting" and "traumatizing" for the flight attendant, who was placed in an unacceptable position. Passengers with physical limitations certainly have a right to fly, but the airline and its employees have no responsibility to assist with personal care. Unreasonable requests such as those made by this passenger should be categorically denied.
The flight attendant involved "hopes that the company can protect its team members, do not allow such passengers to go on the plane alone, or start recruiting male air suits." The union has also demanded that the passenger be banned from future flights and encouraged the airline to hire male flight attendants.
I worry that incidents like this will lead airlines to impose new restrictions on passengers with disabilities who wish to fly alone. I would also worry that this incident will make it harder for disabled passengers to receive the assistance they are entitled to, such as being pushed to the accessible lavatory on the aisle chair.
While this story should be a lesson to to plan travel accounting for one's physical needs, this passenger's behavior is not at all representative of the disabled traveling community. Passengers who need assistance eating, taking medication or using the toilet travel on flights with companions every day. And thousands more people with disabilities who are independent travel alone and without issue. I hope this incident is not used to restrict disabled people's freedom of movement.
This article was first published Jan 21, 2019 @ 02:32 a.m. and has since been updated.
Featured image courtesy EVA Air.