Author: Dr. Kalyan C. Kankanala
Flying with the right airline is very important for a person with blindness or any other disability. The nature and extent of assistance they provide determines the nature and extent of anxiety, trouble and difficulty one faces while flying. An airline with sensible, understanding and supportive staff can make a difficult journey comfortable and easy. All of them are bound by the applicable disability law to provide facilities and assistance, but that does not mean much if the said compliance is not coupled with dedication to assist appropriately.
Several airlines are based out of United Arab Emirates, and I had the opportunity of flying by two of them, Emirates and Etihad Airways. Comparatively, I found Emirates to be more disability friendly and supportive when compared to Etihad Airways. While the ground and on board personnel of Emirates were friendly, sensible and willing to help, Etihad personnel were insensitive, rude and not very helpful. My journey with Emirates was smooth and tension free, but I went through serious distress and discomfort during my travel with Etihad.
In an attempt to educate the airways personnel, I wrote to Etihad requesting for assistance during my return travel, but the request went unheeded. Once I returned to India, I took this up by sending an email to their CEO, which got the system moving. However, the response was less than encouraging. Instead of looking into the issue and correcting their support system for persons with disabilities, they offered me a travel discount and tried to close the complaint. I obviously refused the offer and requested them to comply with the disability law and regulations, which they said their team will look into.
Needless to state, the response from Etihad was less than encouraging and I would not fly by that airlines again. They may offer better price, but the lower price is not worth the trouble. If you have a visual impairment and are considering an airlines based out of UAE, I would advise against Etihad Airways. My experience with Emirates was good, and your chances of flying comfortably is higher with that airlines.
Note: This post is based on my personal experience, and you might want to take this with a pinch of salt. Also, I have not performed a study of how other persons with disabilities were treated by these airlines. Views are personal.