A woman with depression was denied access to board her flight carried by Spring Airlines on Tuesday at Weihai International Airport in East China's Shandong Province, after a staff member saw the woman's hands shaking furiously as a result of her medication.
The woman, surnamed Bi, was originally destined to travel to Nanjing in East China's Jiangsu Province for medical treatment and was accompanied by her boyfriend.
The case resulted in concerns online, with some suggesting the airline discriminated against the woman. Zhang Wuan, a spokesperson from Spring Airlines, told the Global Times that the company stopped the passenger from boarding because of her health and abnormal mental condition, not because she suffers from depression.
Zhang said that security personnel found that the woman's hands were shaking furiously when she passed through the airport's routine security check. The company's ground staff then checked her medical background and health condition at the boarding gate, while comforting her, but the girl's boyfriend, surnamed Yu, became flustered and angry before shouting at the staff members, which resulted in complaints from other passengers, Zhang said.
Yu said his girlfriend had ended up crying at the airport, worrying about whether they would miss the scheduled treatment. "He (a staff member) said that she was emotionally abnormal because of her depression when he saw my girlfriend cry," Yu said, adding that the staff member then reported the case to the captain who decided that the girl's emotional state warranted in the staff members not allowing her to board, according to a report by Xiaoxiang Morning Post.
"We made the regretful decision based on public safety concerns, as the medical condition of the passenger was not clear, they could not be calmed down emotionally and there was no medical advice on their situation," Zhang stressed.
For passengers with mental illness or whose health conditions may endanger themselves or affect the safety of other passengers, the carrier shall not carry them, according to regulations. Experts said that the captain can refuse such passengers already onboard based on specific conditions.
"Regulations stipulate that the captain has the right to refuse onboard passengers if he or she believes they will affect the safety of the flight or disturb order," Diao Weimin, a professor of the Civil Aviation Management Institute of China, said as quoted by the Beijing News.
Many netizens also showed their support for the company's decision, saying that the woman's worrying health condition could have caused further trouble on the flight, putting other passengers in danger. But others questioned the actual message sent to sufferers of depression by the staff.
When asked about whether it could have been the staff members that irritated the two passengers, Zhang stressed that such questions should not be raised as there was no arguing at the scene.
Yu said that they had to take an overnight train to Nanjing in order to make it to the hospital the next day. He asked Spring Airlines to apologize for the incident and compensate for their losses during the transfer and risk of missing their medical appointment.
Spring Airlines refunded the tickets but didn't pay them any compensation or apologize as of press time. Zhang refused to comment about the compensation and apology.
The couple has lodged a complaint with China's Civil Aviation Administration, according to reports.