Man sues El Al over hour-long wait for wheelchair

Codeshare flight was operated by Swiss International; both airlines express regret; El Al offers compensation.

November 24, 2010 06:34
3 minute read.
Wheelchair can be seen at the end of the jetway.

jetway_311. (photo credit: (Marc Kahlberg))

South African-born Israeli security consultant and former police officer Marc Kahlberg filed a lawsuit last week at the Netanya small claims court against El Al after allegedly being stranded at a plane door for almost an hour while waiting for a wheelchair he ordered.

The alleged incident took place on September 30, when Kahlberg flew to Israel from South Africa via Zurich on an El Al flight that had been chartered to Swiss International Air Lines as part of a codeshare agreement.

Kahlberg said he purchased full wheelchair service along with his round-trip El Al ticket from his Netanya-based travel agent, and that a wheelchair had awaited him at the plane’s door at each of the airports he passed through, in Johannesburg and Zurich, before returning to Israel.

Yet after landing at Ben-Gurion Airport aboard a Swiss International aircraft, Kahlberg said, Swiss staff refused to bring him a wheelchair that had been left for him at the far end of the jetway, leaving him stranded at the plane’s door for almost an hour while in pain due to recent surgery. Kahlberg said El Al was responsible for his ordeal, since he had purchased his air ticket from that airline.

“It was over 35 degrees, and I watched as all the passengers got off.

“I was told to wait. I could see my wheelchair from the plane door. But not one of the stewards I asked agreed to bring it to me,” he continued. “I felt helpless.”

Kahlberg said one Swiss Air stewardess refused to bring him the wheelchair, citing “insurance issues,” while another steward, who had arrived to oversee the plane’s clean up crew, was unresponsive to his requests for help.

Kahlberg was eventually assisted by an airport staff member, who gave him a ride on an electric vehicle to the landing terminal.

But he told The Jerusalem Post that what most infuriated him about the experience was “the repeated attempt by El Al to blame other parties” and El Al’s offer of a $50 coupon toward his next flight, which Kahlberg described as “an insult.”

Responding to Kahlberg’s allegations, an El Al spokeswoman said that “El Al regrets the inconvenience caused to the passenger. Mr. Kahlberg did indeed purchase a ticket for a flight operated by Swiss Air, which was responsible for responding to all of his requests. El Al contacted Swiss Air and was told that that the customer purchased a wheelchair service that did not require a pickup from the plane’s door, but from an electric vehicle collection point.”

The spokeswoman continued, “Although El Al is not obligated to compensate the passenger, he did undergo an unpleasant experience and purchased the ticket from El Al. As a goodwill gesture, a symbolic compensation offer was made. Additionally, El Al has offered to personally assist him in future flights to ensure that he receives the most appropriate service.”

A Swiss International spokeswoman in Zurich said, “We deeply regret this incident and apologize for the inconvenience that Mr. Kahlberg has suffered. I forwarded this to our customer relations management and will inform you as soon as I find out more details about it.”

A Swiss customer relations representative later added, “We regret most sincerely any inconvenience which he may have incurred.... In the event that Mr. Kahlberg would like for us to handle the matter he is more than welcome to contact us directly. In addition, I believe that El Al Airlines was the marketing carrier for this flight and that the respective reply was sent out to him by them.”

Kahlberg, an El Al Platinum Tier frequent flyer said, “They know they’re in the wrong. The main reason I am going to court is because it took a month for them to respond at all.”

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