Let your customers crawl up the steps

Vanilla Air (a low-fare subsidiary of Nippon Airlines) has just challenged United for the title of Worst Airline Provider.   Vanilla air initially explained to Mr. Hideto Kijima, who uses a wheelchair, that he couldn’t board their plane on the island of Amami, because they lacked a way to raise his wheelchair.  They explained that other passengers and airline personnel were not permitted to help him up the steps, because there was a risk of an accident.  Mr. Kijima, who needed to get on the flight to continue his trip and get back to mainland Japan, proceeded to scoot from his chair and crawl up the steps.  He is paralyzed from the waist down, so he pulled himself up, step by step using his arms while the airline personnel worked to keep passengers from assisting him, as per regulations.


Once Mr. Kijima got to the top of the stairs, the attendants helped him into a wheelchair and moved him to his seat.

The airline has since apologized for the incident and Mr. Kijima’s inconvenience.

What kind of organization creates or allow processes like this to exist?  What kind of organization doesn’t allow its employees enough discression to act in situations like this to avoid a PR nightmare!  (Japan is scheduled to host the para-Olympics in 2020 — wanta bet this incident is getting a lot of play in para-Olympic circles.)

And NO, not allowing disabled passengers to fly is NOT the solution to this situation!

 The airline is just lucky that no one took a picture with their cell phone — it would be a worldwide sensation.

As organizations become more automated and their processes are used in more different situations around the world, they need to build in flexibility.  Employees need to be empowered to take intelligent actions when special situations call for it.  This is one very good example of why total automation will not be a good thing — organizations need people to assure that the customer interface stays flexible and humane.