BEIRUT: A woman in a wheelchair who was prevented from boarding a plane over the weekend by an employee of Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines plans to sue the company, local media reported Monday.
Rola al-Helou, a journalist, said that an MEA employee told her she could not board her flight to Cairo because she was alone, and taunted her, challenging her to get up and walk to prove she was able-bodied. The story sparked outrage after it aired on several local television stations.
Video footage showed Helou crying bitterly and as she explained how hurt she had been by the incident, adding that she travels by herself often.
Helou is reportedly planning to go through with a discrimination lawsuit.
A statement from the Lebanese Physical Handicapped Union directed to the general director of the MEA, Mohammad al-Hout, urged the company to issue a public apology to Helou and called for improving the airlines’ service to people with disabilities.
“We demand a public apology to our colleague Roula al-Helou, and we call on you to take the necessary measures to enable your technical team to deal [better] with handicapped people,” the statement said.
“[MEA] is not allowed to prevent handicapped people from travelling and you should do everything necessary to facilitate their trips.”
The LPHU warned the company that they would lead a campaign calling on people to boycott MEA if their demands were not met, and that they would monitor the airlines’ behavior with travelers with disabilities from now on.
A statement from MEA insisted the employee did not insult Helou, and that the company complies with international standards for serving people with special needs.
“The company assures [the public] that it abides by all international laws and respects the needs of people with special needs,” the statement said, adding that it recently opened a special office to serve people with special needs.
According to the statement, Helou insisted while booking her flight that she could walk from the wheelchair to the airplane. According to MEA, she has requested assistance when booking previous flights with the airline.
Upon arriving to the airport, Helou needed assistance to reach her seat, which, according to the company's statement, requires "pre-prepared procedures to ensure her comfort and safety in the airport and on board the plane."
“Although we appreciate Ms. Helou's feelings, the case should not in any way turn into a campaign to depict the company as heartless,” the statement said.
The company insinuated Helou had been inappropriate with airline staff, adding: “We also need to remember to be polite to company employees who are only doing their jobs."