Airplane Wing in Sun

KLM/Delta/Air France Airlines Use Airplanes with Non-Accessible Passenger Seat

I was a passenger with reduced mobility, Spinal Cord Injury Quadriplegic who cannot stand or walk, and traveled on a KLM plane on September 9, 2017, on KL606, returning on September 25, 2017, on KL 605. I followed all KLM requirements for prior requesting of special assistant services for help transferring from the aisle chair into the passenger seat for both flights. Special Assistant Services did provide help for transferring into and out of my passenger seat on both flights.

KLM is using a 747 airplane with non-accessible passenger seat armrests, which raise-up only to a 45° angle for the KL 606 and KL 605 air flights. This means that the Special Assistance Services personnel must lift my 6 foot 2 inch, 225 pounds body up and over the non-movable armrest and safely lower my body into the narrow passenger seat. KLM flight attendants are not allowed during the flight to physically lift my body over the armrest and into the aisle chair. Therefore, I had to remain in my passenger seat for the full 10+ hours of the air flight and I was not able to use the on-board aisle chair to go to the bathroom.

This means that I must severely reduce my liquid intake during the transcontinental flight and not urinate for approximately 11-12 hours, and hope that my body does not have any diarrhea reactions to the onboard food that would require me to go to the bathroom.

When I arrived at the Amsterdam Airport and again on the return trip to the San Francisco Airport, the Special Assistance Services personnel were required to lift my body up and out of the passenger seat, over the non-movable armrests and into the aisle chair within a very small and confining space on the aircraft. Lifting my body over the non-movable armrest risks bodily harm to the Special Assistance Services personnel’s muscles and backs and is personally humiliating and also risks harming my body.

In my opinion, KLM’s continuing use of non-accessible airplane equipment without movable/accessible armrests in some passenger seats in each class of service is in direct violation of the United States Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), which governs access to U.S. air travel. Flights completed by foreign carriers that depart from or arrive in the U.S. are subject to the ACAA. Under the ACAA’s regulations, the KLM aircraft, (a 747), should have been equipped with movable/accessible armrests on some passenger seats, an accessible lavatory, and an on-board wheelchair. In addition, I believe that the KLM aircraft is in violation of, Regulation (EC) N° 1107/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 July 2006 concerning the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when traveling by air.

Air carriers should also provide accessible information about possible limitations on their websites. Prior to purchasing my plane ticket for KL 606 and KL 605, the KLM Airlines website did not provide any passenger seat accessibility information as required by EU regulation.

I also had to experience and endure all of the same bodily risks and humiliation from the same non-movable armrests on my return Amsterdam to San Francisco KLM 605 air flight on September 25, 2017. Because of my professional international work promoting the rights of persons with disabilities, I am aware of other persons with disabilities who have expressed similar violations of their accessibility rights when traveling on KLM aircraft.

UPDATES: I received an email response from the US Department of Transportation and the following two official email responses from KLM Airlines Customer Service regarding my complaint.

On October 12, I received an email from the US Department of Transportation, Office of the Secretary of Transportation, General Counsel, which said “We have also entered your complaint in our computerized industry monitoring system, and the company will be charged with the complaint in our monthly complaint report.”

On November 2, I received the first official email response from KLM, In which they said “A thorough research with our Fleet Manager of the Boeings 747 fleet confirmed that the armrests of the seats you had been assigned are designed to be fully lifted up, if this is necessary. However, a specific procedure must be followed, and as per your report, we realize that the armrest would not lift up more than 45 degrees. ….. We nevertheless believe that this situation reflects a lack of appropriate training and is a violation of U.S. Department of Transportation Part 382 Subpart G (boarding, deplaning), ….We have, nevertheless, brought this matter to the attention of the SFO station and have advised that the proper manipulation of the armrests must be reviewed by the staff of our handling company. …. In the hope that you will understand that the experience you have encountered on both occasions is not representative of the quality of service we want to offer you, we have gladly decided to compensate you for the amount of $1000.”

On November 7, I received a second official email from KLM customer service, which said:
1. KLM has decided to display on it’s website the following informational documents on accessibility issues:
https://www.klm.com/travel/ca_en/prepare_for_travel/travel_planning/physically_challenged/klm_cares.htm#g_np_sa=0&p1; and
https://www.klm.com/travel/ca_en/images/Carefree-travel_eng_03_17_LR2_tcm534-697020.pdf.
2. Regarding the armrests of the Boeing 747s, KLM is preparing a video instruction for the flight crews on how to fully lift up the armrests and is planning to redesign the passenger seats.

Mr. Bruce Curtis, CA