Japanese budget airline Vanilla Air, which forced a wheelchair-bound man crawl up a set of stairs to board his flight, apologised on Wednesday (28 June).

Hideto Kijima, 44, who is paralysed from the waist down, was returning to Osaka from a vacation in Amami last month. Vanilla Air employees told him that company safety rules barred anyone from carrying him up the stairs and even refused to let his companions help him board the plane.

According to the airline, it prohibits the carrying of passengers in wheelchairs or by piggyback on boarding ramps for safety reasons.

The airport in Amami lacked equipment to help disabled people enter and exit aircraft. There is also no lift to move the disabled passengers from the tarmac up to the jet's door.

In his blog, Kijima said that he had to pull himself up 17 steps of the metal ramp to board his plane on 5 June.
Vanilla Air has since apologised to Kijima.

"In the course of exchanges, the customer ended up going up the steps by himself, and airport staff could do nothing but just watch," Akihito Matsubara, head of the carrier's department of human resources and general affairs told The Asahi newspaper.

"Boarding in this fashion should never have taken place, and that was not what we had intended," he added.

Kijima has visited 158 countries and said that he sometimes does not notify the personnel about his condition before arriving at the airports. Some of the airports were ill-equipped to help disabled people.

"But I had never been denied boarding just because of my inability to walk," he said.

On 14 June, the airline made available a lift assist stretcher at the airport and plans to introduce a stair lift for wheelchair users on 29 June.

Vanilla Air/ANA Holdings have apologised through their international advisory firm, saying, "We deeply regret this incident and have apologized to the passenger for this experience. All airlines under the ANA HOLDINGS umbrella, including Vanilla Air, have taken immediate action to rectify the inadequate wheelchair access at Amami airport and at all smaller regional airports across our Japan domestic network, and have introduced manual chair lifts where facilities were found not sufficient to accommodate the needs of all our passengers."

"These measures will ensure that passengers in wheelchairs are able to board our flights safely and comfortably. In addition to these measures, we are reviewing our airport handling procedures to make sure they are in line with our high customer service standards."