Disability rights before proposed amendment
Features of proposed amendment


The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) recently proposed amendments to improve the accessibility of boarding and flying for disabled people. The proposed amendment to the Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) follows the infamous IndiGo incident, wherein the airline IndiGo refused to let a distressed teenager board the plane, claiming that he possessed a risk to other passengers. The DGCA fined IndiGo 500,000 rupees and introduced new guidelines to prevent the occurrence of such an incident again. The proposed amendment now reads as follows:

Airline shall not refuse carriage of any person on the basis of disability. However, in case, an airline perceives that the health of such a passenger may deteriorate in-flight, the said passenger will have to be examined by a Doctor- who shall categorically state the medical condition and whether the passenger is fit to fly or not. After obtaining the medical opinion, the Airline shall take the appropriate call.

Disability rights before proposed amendment

Prior to the introduction of the new guidelines, the CAR already contained rules to regulate the boarding and flying of disabled people. The rules clearly define "persons with disabilities" and "a person with reduced mobility" (PRM) under series M of section 3 (3.1, 3.2; part I). These definitions include both physical and mental impairments. The CAR was designed such that these definitions would have a wide scope to address the needs and special requirements of any people falling within these categories. These needs are set out under "requirements" of the same section (4; part 1).

The CAR provided a variety of rules under these requirements, the main theme of which is the accessibility of aircraft. According to the rules, aircraft personnel are required to let persons with disabilities and PRMs carry any assistive devices and aids.(1) Airlines are also prohibited from discriminating against such people(2) and must provide the highest possible priority(3) to them if passengers are offloaded. On the subject of refusal to let disabled passengers embark the aircraft, the CAR states that the airline must provide its opinion in writing, dictating why the transport of such a person is "inimical to the safety of flight".(4)

However, despite these requirements, people falling within the ambit of the definition of disabled persons and PRMs in the CAR have faced difficulties, and on multiple occasions have been treated differently. Recently, in March 2022, a passenger complained that they were not allowed to use their electric wheelchair and that they were asked to remove the batteries from their "assistive device".(5) The passenger was unable to comply with this request and was thus not allowed to fly.(6) The same passenger had faced similar problems in 2017.

The issue of such discrimination against disabled persons attempting to fly was addressed by the Supreme Court in the case of Jeeja Ghosh.(7) The Court declared that the right to fly is akin to the fundamental rights granted by the Constitution of India and held in favour of the complainant. The case serves as a landmark judgment in the field of disability rights, especially the rights of disabled people on aircraft. The judgment was apparently also cited by the passenger in the IndiGo case, but to no avail.(8) Thus, there was a need to amend the requirements to better address the grievances of disabled people.

Features of proposed amendment

The proposed amendment adds to the existing provisions. Like the previously applicable requirements, the amendment prohibits the refusal of carriage solely on the basis of a passenger's disability. However, the amendment adds that such carriage can be refused only after a doctor examines the passenger: only the doctor has the power to determine whether such a passenger is fit to fly. Another key difference is that, prior to the proposed amendment, the grounds for refusal were "safety of flight". This led to a general trend (albeit sometimes in an indirect manner) to declare such persons as safety hazards. Through the amendment, the deciding factor will be the health of the passenger. This small change in language makes it so the "refusal", if any, is in the interest of the passenger and not some apparent danger to the safety of the aircraft or other passengers.

The DGCA has been highly responsive to such matters and its efforts have been commended by many.(9) The incident took place on 7 May 2022; the airline was served with a show-cause notice within 10 days. After this, the body imposed a fine on 28 May 2022 and had an amendment ready by 3 June 2022.

Laws to protect the rights of disabled people on flights have already been introduced by various other countries. For example, England has the Equality Act 2010 to ensure the enforceability of such rights in areas of public transport. Similarly, the United States has the Air Carrier Access Code, which is designed like the Indian law on the same subject matter and prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.


While the DGCA's proposed amendment is a welcome change and will expand disability rights jurisprudence, it is imperative to ensure its enforceability once it is enacted. The law on this subject has previously been violated by air operators several times, resulting in many cases of discrimination and inaccessibility to carriage by air. Further, the proposed amendments will at least take two months before they can be formally notified.

Going forward, the DGCA should have an active oversight over air operators and penalise them if they flout the CAR (as they did in the present case). The DGCA should continue to amend laws as and when the need arises.

For further information on this topic please contact Syed Tamjeed Ahmad or Rakhee Biswas at Spaviatech Law​ by telephone (+91 99 9927 0013) or email ([email protected] or [email protected]). The Spaviatech Law​ website can be accessed at


(1) 4.1.1, part 1, series M, section 3 – Air Transport, Civil Aviation Requirements.

(2) Id, 4.1.3.

(3) Id, 4.1.15.

(4) Id, 4.1.35.

(5) MS S, "'Humiliated': Disabled Man Accuses Air India Of Denying Boarding", NDTV, 2022.

(6) Ibid.

(7) Jeeja Ghosh v Union of India (2022) 1 SCC 202.

(8) Mukul P, and Angad A, "Indigo 'Denies' Boarding To Child With Special Needs", The Indian Express, 2022.

(9) Phadnis A, "Aviation Watchdog Uses Sharper Teeth To Punish Wrongdoing By Airports, Airlines", Moneycontrol, 2022.