National airline, Drukair, now following international requirements for patients wanting to fly

Aviation: Following the September incident when an ailing passenger had to be de-boarded from a Drukair flight which subsequently caused a public backlash, the national airline has introduced a new procedure for medical patients wanting to fly.

The airline will now require information based on International Air Transport Association (IATA) requirements from both the patient and a physician.

While the captain of the flight who made the decision to de-board the passenger acted within international norms, many observers said that a decision should have been made on the ground before the passenger checked-in and boarded the flight which would have prevented subsequent events.

Many said that the smell, as a result of a medical condition, had already been noticed by ground staff.

Despite this, the passenger was allowed to board the flight because a medical certificate declaring him fit to fly was produced. Drukair public relations spokesperson, Jamyang Choden in an emailed response said that the medical certificate was accepted on humanitarian grounds that day.

In spite of this, the airline has introduced a new form that replaces the fit to fly medical certificate.

“We have introduced MEDIF (medical information for fitness to travel/special assistance) form and it has been incorporated in our ground operations manual,” she said. “The form requires required information in line with IATA international procedure,” she added.

“So in place of a fit to fly certificate we have developed this form, which has detailed information about the medical conditions of the patient,” she also said. “Based on this form we will inform the airport and share it with them. Unlike the medical certificate we will be capturing information from both the patient and the attending physician.”

While the captain’s decision to de-board the passenger that day was within his authority, it was also pointed out that he attempted to convince other passengers to keep the passenger onboard on compassionate grounds. He de-boarded all passengers and asked for a show of hands among passengers to see if there was a consensus among them to keep the ailing passenger on the flight.

But this show of hands was seen as a vote by some and a point of contention later.

On whether Drukair has made any changes to how the captain of a flight may handle similar situations, Jamyang Choden said that the MEDIF form would hereon determine whether a patient can fly or not.

However, it was also pointed out that the captain of the flight that day had acted in accordance with privileges and responsibilities conferred by law. The captain called the doctor who issued the medical certificate, who then left it to the captain’s discretion.

“Therefore the pilot in command took the most appropriate action in accordance with Operating Procedures and the Conditions of Carriage approved by Bhutan Civil Aviation Authority,” Jamyang Choden said. “On that day it was a personal initiative taken by the captain on compassionate grounds, offloading the patient would have been an ideal situation but he made a judgment call based on compassion, as he didn’t want to offload the patient,” she added.

The Bhutan Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA) also investigated the incident.

Asked whether the authority had found any flaws in the way the passenger was handled that day and if it had required the airline to change any procedures, BCAA director Wangdi Gyaltshen said that the authority had called for an explanation, and that the airline’s explanation showed that there had been no breach of any rule and that the captain followed standard procedure.

Gyalsten K Dorji