Welcome to Episode 45 of the #PaxEx Podcast. Our guest for this episode is Mika Pyyhkala. Focused on technology and transportation, Mika is VP of the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts and VP of the Association of Blind Citizens. He has attended the US DOT Air Carrier Access Act working group forums on behalf of these organizations since about the year 2000.
First, a blind woman says she was recently booted off an American Airlines flight after she requested a slightly roomier seat in order to be able to accommodate her service dog. Mika, who flies up to 75 segments per year, tells us if these types of situations are common, and considers whether #PaxEx has gotten better or worse for blind passengers through the years. Mika urges listeners to check out The Blind Side Podcast, which interviewed the passenger in question, Sue Martin. And he highlights a story from 2013, when passengers really stood up to support a commuter with pre-merger US Airways, who was escorted off a plane with his guide dog.
Next, The Guardian has a report on how disabled passengers still face discrimination by airlines. It highlights several instances where passengers’ mobility devices were damaged, and their owners had to fight to be compensated (RGN previously covered the story of Athena Stevens, who waged battle with BA over a broken mobility device). Anti-discrimination laws in the US differ from those observed by European airlines. Co-hosts Max Flight and Mary Kirby talk to Mika about whether the European Commission should follow the United States’ lead and ensure airlines pay the full cost when mobility equipment is damaged on domestic flights. This talking point leads Mika, Max and Mary into a deeper conversation about how airports and airlines can improve the passenger experience for disabled passengers.
Finally, Mika shares his thoughts on the DOT’s plan to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) this summer aimed at improving accessibility of aircraft lavatories and inflight entertainment. The NPRM will propose a variety of measures that were agreed by a committee comprising airlines, persons with disabilities, flight attendants, aircraft manufacturers, motion picture studios and other #PaxEx stakeholders. It sounds like a step in the right direction; we ask Mika if he likes what he’s hearing from the DOT. He lays out, in no uncertain terms, what the blind community will expect to emerge from the NPRM.
“If you can’t access the menu of an [inflight entertainment or connectivity] system, you’re done,” he says.
Access the audio recording of this podcast below. A transcription of the podcast is available here. #Podcast 045 transcription