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July 23, 2004

Airline refuses to fly deaf youths

From: Guardian, UK - Jul 23, 2004

Sam Jones
The Guardian

A party of deaf teenagers flying to the Canary Islands to celebrate the end of their A-levels was asked to leave their aeroplane at the last minute yesterday because they did not have an adult with them.

The 23 youngsters, from the Mary Hare Grammar School for the Deaf in Newbury, Berkshire, were escorted off the Iberia flight from Heathrow to Madrid just before take-off.

Although their parents said the trip had been booked in advance and the airline had been told they would be flying unaccompanied, they were refused permission to fly because of international air travel regulations.

"They boarded the plane at Heathrow after asking if they could sit together. Their baggage was loaded but someone decided to throw them off," said one of their parents.

"The airline wanted them to have a hearing person with them.

"These young people have the courage to travel despite their disability, but they have been embarrassed. A lot of them were crying and they have been made a spectacle just because of their disability."

The teenagers were taken to a hotel yesterday, where they were to stay the night before flying out today - accompanied by an adult.

Iberia apologised for the incident, but a spokesman said the group should have been told the rules when it booked. "If something happens on a flight with 23 unaccompanied deaf people, it could be a very difficult situation," he said.

"It is against international transport rules for that many deaf people to fly un-accompanied. The rules say four deaf people can travel unaccompanied, or 10 deaf people as long as they are accompanied."

The Disability Rights Commission, however, said it had never heard of such a rule.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004