China Southern Airlines criticized for allegedly refusing boarding to disabled passenger

By Linh Le   February 21, 2024 | 10:57 pm PT
China Southern Airlines reportedly prevented a legless woman from boarding her flight, invoking a rule that bars wheelchair-bound passengers from flying solo, which has incited public dismay throughout mainland China.
An aircraft from China Southern Airlines. Photo from China Southern Airlines Twitter

An aircraft from China Southern Airlines. Photo from China Southern Airlines' Twitter

As covered by the South China Morning Post, the woman, surnamed Zhang and hailing from China’s central province of Hubei, disclosed in a video on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, that she had notified the airline 48 hours prior to her flight about her need for wheelchair support, in line with the airline’s requirements. She also confirmed with the airline via phone that she was cleared to travel.

Yet, at the airport, she was met by airline staff who declared that she could not board the aircraft without a companion for assistance.

Zhang endeavored to prove her adherence to the airline’s regulations by showing evidence of her ability to travel independently in the past, but she was still issued a "refusal of carriage" notice at the check-in desk.

In her video, Zhang challenged the airline’s assumption, asking: "What makes China Southern Airlines think that disabled people in wheelchairs cannot live and travel alone?"

She also highlighted that she was not the only passenger to face such treatment and questioned the rationale behind China Southern Airlines’ policy, which she believes contradicts domestic norms.

Following the publication of Zhang’s video, numerous internet users have criticized the airline.

One individual questioned: "Is China Southern Airlines discriminating against disabled people?"

"China Southern Airlines needs to provide a reasonable explanation," another demanded.

The controversy echoes a similar situation in Sep. 2023, involving a woman from Minnesota, the U.S., and her husband, both of whom use wheelchairs. According to USA Today, the couple were informed by the Dutch airline KLM during their check-in for a flight from Barcelona to Minnesota that they could not board without an "able-bodied chaperone."

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