On the morning of 22 June 2012, at La Thanh Hotel (Hanoi), East Meets West and the National Coordinating Council for Disabilities (NCCD), hosted a workshop for PWD to share information and experiences about access to air transportation in Vietnam. The purpose of the workshop was to seek opinions from people with disabilities regarding obstacles to air transportation, to find solutions, and to continue improvements in policies for the integration of people with disabilities into everyday life. Workshop attendees included Mr. Chu Manh Hung, president of the Department of Environment, representatives from the Ministry of Transport, representatives from the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, the Vietnam air services department as well as NGOs, associations of people with disabilities from Hanoi and other northern provinces.
Mrs. Nguyen Thi Tuyet Nhung, president of the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, opened the conference. She noted that people with disabilities in Vietnam still face many difficulties in various aspects of life including education, their vocation, their occupation and especially, in transport. Recently, the department has received extensive feedback regarding difficulties with air transport for people with disabilities such as making bookings and receiving services at the airport.
Mrs. Nguyen Hong Ha, director of ‘Inclusive Development Action’ organization, spoke on behalf of the association of people with disabilities in Hanoi: “In Vietnam, air services only effectively support people with minor mobility disabilities. Some airlines even refuse to serve blind people, because they believe the blind should only travel if accompanied by their relatives.”
Mrs Nguyen Hong Ha - Director of ‘Inclusive Development Action’ organization
She also pointed out that in airports, there are insufficient means of communication for deaf people. People with significant mobility disabilities who are wheelchair bound, must buy tickets directly at number 4 Trang Thi Street and sign a liability exemption form. This requirement depresses people with disabilities as it is inconvenient, and because the liability exemption form embodies a discriminatory policy.
According to Mrs. Ha, people with disabilities not only encounter problems when booking tickets, but are also greatly inconvenienced through a lack of support services and poor attitudes from airline staff. This is particularly so in Noi Bai Airport, Hanoi. For example, booking staff, the check-in staff and passengers still do not know whether an aisle-chair seat (a wheelchair style seat that fits in the aisle) is acceptable on the plane. This causes great confusion and difficulty for people with disabilities.
The contrast between Noi Bai and other Vietnamese airports should be noted. A number of southern airports supply lifting cars,meanwhile Noi Bai airport does not. People with disabilities are exempt from service fees on Vietnam airline flights but they still have to pay a fee on other domestic flights. In the workshop, many disabled people were depressed about the bureaucracy, and vague and un-flexible procedures to receive support services from Vietnam airlines. These procedures include restrictions on the number of PWD on each flight, and the absurdity of the rule that some disabilities mean travelers must be accompanied.
Representatives from Vietnam Air Services said that infrastructure in many airports, especially local airports, still was inadequate to provide support services to disabled people. Almost all of Vietnam’s inland airports do not have lifting cars for disabled people from land to plane, staff who work directly with disabled people do not understand how to provide full and precise information about rights and responsibilities of disabled people in air services. Currently, booking tickets is carried out through agents or the internet. Information for PWD is not provided directly and precisely, so provision of supporting services to disabled people has not been carried out properly.
According to Mr. Dang, at present all Vietnamese airlines are equipped with enough wheelchairs to meet the needs of disabled passengers. As for lifting cars, due to the significant cost of installation, currently only Tan Son Nhat airport, Noi Bai airport, Da Nang airport and Lien Khuong airport are equipped.
Mr. Chu Manh Hung - president of the environment department, Ministry of Transport, spoke about this issue: “Theoretically, the Ministry of Transport and Vietnam Air Services, requires airports to be equipped with supportive infrastructure and devices serving disabled people such as a toilet and an elevator, in order to facilitate their needs when using lifting cars, wheelchairs and other equipment. However, it’s necessary to balance the budget and apply supports for PWD step by step, to support each type of disability in turn, then eventually progress to a complete application of the Disabled people Law. It’s impossible to serve all disabled people in the short term.”
Regarding the problems of air transport of people with disabilities, Vietnam Air Services is compiling a set of customer service standard directions in airports related to disabled passengers. The department also asked the Vietnam airport corporation to equip local airports with lifting cars, they asked Vietnam airlines to train, disperse information, and improve skill of staff who work directly with disabled people. Further, the department will instruct offices of Vietnam airways to meet up periodically to assess passenger service quality.
According to Mrs. Nguyen Hong Ha, when developing or reforming regulations, airlines and Vietnam Air Services should cooperate with disabled people’s organizations. This is because these organizations have professional knowledge and understanding about access to transport, and know first-hand about disabled people’s difficulties and how to develop optimal solutions.