The passenger was de-boarded following complaints about his smell as a result of medical conditions

Aviation: The national airline, Drukair, has challenged the version of events concerning the offloading of an ailing passenger who because of medical conditions caused a smell that some passengers in the aircraft found offensive.

The issue arose on September 25, after the daughter, Tenzin Dolkar, of the ailing passenger posted on Facebook about the incident.

In her post, which quickly went viral and caused a public back lash against the airline, she wrote that her father, Tashi Tshering, 43, was offloaded after four passengers complained of the smell emanating from him as a result of his medical conditions. He is suffering from sinusitis, chronic ulcer of the nose, a developing tumour in his nasal cavities, and a mouth infection. He was on his way to Bangkok for treatment and surgery accompanied by family members. They were seated in business class along with the four complainants.

While it could not be confirmed, reports say that the complainants were American tourists.

According to Tenzin Dolkar, the captain then held a vote among the passengers on whether her father should be offloaded. “And of course, majority wanted my father on board, but the pilot decided to listen to those four selfish and inhumane passengers,” she wrote.

There were 109 passengers and seven crew members on board.

However, in a statement released by the airline 48 hours following the incident, Drukair while apologising for the incident, denied that a vote had occurred in the aircraft and that the captain had sought a general consensus.

According to the airline, while Tashi Tshering had a medical certificate issued to him by a private doctor clearing him to fly, the smell factor was not taken into consideration.

Once on board, a “pungent odour” permeated the cabin of the aircraft which led to a “huge unrest” among the passengers with some even refusing to take their seats, according to the airline. The airline claims that some passengers also exited the aircraft while others “lined up to visit the washroom to vomit.” The total number of passengers who were affected is not provided.

The captain then called the doctor who issued the medical certificate and informed him of the issue, following which the medical certificate was “verbally” revoked. This then allowed the pilot to de-board Tashi Tshering. However, the pilot on “humanitarian grounds” was willing to avoid this and carry on to Bangkok with Tashi Tshering on-board but only if there was a unanimous acceptance among the passengers, it is stated by the airline.

However, the airline says that while “some” were willing to tolerate the smell, “most” were unsure, and a “few” refused, even remaining outside the aircraft. Again, no numbers are provided.

This situation was then considered a “potential threat” to the four-hour flight as, according to the airline, the smell would have gotten worse once the aircraft’s doors were closed and those already complaining could become more agitated forcing an emergency landing. An emergency landing is considered a compromise of the safety and security of all those on-board.

“Captain’s decision to de-board the patient was difficult and also appeared inhumane,” the airline says, but adds that there was no choice and that Drukair does not discriminate based on status. This was in response to Tenzin Dolkar’s  statement that the situation may have been handled differently if the ailing passenger had been a VIP.

The airline points out that preferably the situation of taking Tashi Tshering to Bangkok should have been handled by the medical system.

The airline also points out that it coordinated a donation drive among passengers of the flight and raised and handed over around USD 2,000. A discounted charter flight the following day was also offered, according to the airline. A charter flight using the ATR aircraft costs around USD 40,000. It is not known what the discounted rate was.

According to one Drukair employee who posted information on Facebook on a personal basis, automatic release perfume equipment was placed under the ailing passenger’s seat and he was also made to wear a face mask.

A retired pilot who has served in Bhutan as captain pointed out that ultimately the captain always has the authority to offload passengers without even necessarily giving a reason.

In an email interview with Kuensel conducted prior to the airline’s response, Tenzin Dolkar, said that her father was depressed as a result of the incident and her family unhappy.

“I couldn’t bear this incident which is why I posted it online,” she said.

She added that while her family will not be pursuing legal action against Drukair, it is hoped that by writing about the experience such incidents can be avoided.

“I did not fully blame the pilot but just thought he made some wrong decisions at that time,” she said. “People make mistakes, it’s just how life goes on but learning a lesson from the mistake is what we are hoping the most from Drukair and the four passengers.”

Tenzin Dolkar also claims that when her mother visited the Drukair office on Saturday, she was reminded about the airline’s rules, regulations, and policy and told that the airline would be placed on a “black list” if the American tourists had sued the company.

“We don’t want anything from Drukair, no compensation at all but just a change in the management for patients,” she said.

Meanwhile, it has been learnt that Tashi Tshering and eight family members were medically evacuated to Bangkok in a chartered Tashi Air flight, yesterday evening.

Details on who paid for the chartered flight could not be obtained given time constraints.

Gyalsten K Dorji