Airline apologizes to disabled man over tarmac stairs

TOKYO (AP) - A Japanese airline said Wednesday it has apologized for making a wheelchair user hoist himself up a staircase from the tarmac to board his flight.

Hideto Kijima faced the problem earlier this month while returning to Osaka from the southern island of Amami with friends.

Vanilla Air, the budget affiliate of Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways, told him before boarding on June 5 that the small airport requires the use of stairs and has no lift to safely carry a disabled person onto the plane. Vanilla also refused to let his friends carry him in his wheelchair or separately.

Kijima, 44, who is paralyzed from the waist down, wrote on his blog that he got out of the wheelchair, resisted airline staff who tried to stop him and hoisted himself up the stairs with his arms, a process that took several minutes.

"I just had to ignore them and keep moving up, or I could not go back to Osaka," he wrote. One of his friends helped push him, and at the top he was put into a wheelchair and taken to his seat. "I've never thought I would be refused to fly for not being able to walk," he said. "It's a human rights violation."

Vanilla said it has apologized to Kijima and that new lifts are being installed.

"We apologized to him for the unpleasant experience," Vanilla spokesman Akihiro Ishikawa said. "We also explained that we are taking measures to improve our service."

Japanese media reported on his ordeal on Wednesday.

Kijima, an advocate of barrier-free traveling, says he has visited 158 countries and used 200 airports, and has never been rejected before. He says he is not asking for fancy equipment but just some assistance.

Ishikawa said Amami is the only airport on Vanilla's 14 international and domestic routes without lifts for wheelchair users.