What was KLM thinking? The Dutch airline came under fire recently for having barred an 18-year-old indigenous Filipino woman from flying to Rio de Janeiro for the flimsiest but most outrageous of reasons: She was tagged as “not ready to travel” despite the full documentation she presented to airline personnel.
Arjean Marie Belco of Bukidnon’s Talaandig tribe, whose trip was sponsored by the nonprofit group GoodX.org and its partner Cartwheel Foundation.org., was at the Kuala Lumpur airport on July 20, en route to Brazil to take part in the World Youth Day celebrations, when a KLM employee identified as a Mr. Shawa stopped her at the check-in counter. The man was “doubtful” about the validity of Belco’s trip—and would not let her on the flight even after he was shown valid travel and supplementary documents.
According to the complaint posted by Belco and her sponsors on Facebook, Shawa also let loose with disparaging comments and questions—about why her ticket was “too cheap … and was just purchased yesterday,” why her passport looked new, and how much money she had, among other things. Belco was able to present bank documentation that she had sufficient travel funds; she also requested the airline to call her sponsors to confirm the trip. But she was still barred from flying.
GoodX.org said it had contacted KLM before Belco’s ticket was bought, to confirm her flight details. So what would account for the airline’s action? GoodX.org thinks it was because a high-handed KLM employee profiled Belco and decided she didn’t fit his idea of a typical international traveler. “Arjean was denied her right to travel. This could also be perceived as a possible case of discrimination based on appearance, gender, ethnicity, nationality, age or social status,” GoodX.org said in its FB post.
Belco, a BS Education student who was on her very first trip outside of the Philippines, was eventually allowed to fly and is now in Rio. In a subsequent statement, KLM said it had gotten in touch with GoodX.org and had “made all arrangements needed to bring this to a good end.” It also said it “values all of its passengers,” does not distinguish “between age, gender, race, religion or lifestyle,” and accepts “passengers in possession of valid travel documents.”
But there was no explanation whatsoever for its exclusionist behavior toward the young woman, who was not only carrying valid travel papers but was also fully backed by her sponsors. Worse, there was no hint of remorse in KLM’s statement, or a smidgen of acknowledgment that it had made a regrettable mistake.
The absence of apology is appalling. This airline’s display of disregard for the rights of customers deserves the strongest rebuke. Travellers are also hereby forewarned.
Belco’s flight to Rio de Janeiro was delayed by two days. But mercifully she made it in time as the World Youth Day festivities went into high gear with the arrival of Pope Francis, who has been electrifying the world with the radical brand of simplicity and humility that he immediately put into practice in the staid and snooty Vatican.
The former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has brought to Brazil his “back to basics” spirit. His packed schedule includes not only high Masses for fervent Catholics in grandiose basilicas and appearances before tens of thousands of young faithful from the world over, but also a visit to a hospital to comfort drug addicts—a gesture reminiscent of the many acts of simple kindness he has displayed in the gilded capital of Catholicism, such as washing the feet of juvenile inmates on Holy Thursday, visiting poor migrants outside Rome, and getting off his popemobile to embrace disabled children.
Francis has also called on priests to live simpler lifestyles, declared in one homily that Christ’s redemption covered “even the atheists,” and greeted Muslims during Ramadan. For all these, conservative Catholics “have not been really happy,” reports the National Catholic Reporter. That’s the surest sign there is that this Pope’s campaign to return the 1.2 billion-strong Catholic congregation to the kinder, gentler fundamentals of its faith—to become a compassionate, all-embracing Church—is working.
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