Easyjet has been fined £42,000 for ordering a disabled French woman to leave a plane because they deemed her a ‘security risk’.
Wheelchair-bound Marie-Patricia Hoarau, 41, said the British airline made her feel like a ‘social outcast’ when they forced her off the flight because she was flying alone.
The budget carrier was ordered to pay a £4,500 fine by a Paris court last year, but an appeals court increased it by almost ten times on Tuesday after EasyJet challenged the ruling.
Ms Hoarau, a paraplegic since a cycling accident 20 years ago, told the court how she was allowed to travel unaccompanied on her outbound flight from Nice to Paris in March 2010.
But when she boarded the plane to return to Nice, she was ordered back to the check-in desk because she did not have a ‘helper’.
A fellow passenger offered to take on the role, but cabin crew refused because they had not checked in together.
She was taken off the plane and given a free ticket on the next flight, while check-in staff found another passenger willing to accompany her.
Ms Hoarau said: ‘I was allowed to board the plane alone, but once I was inside, they told me I couldn’t travel because I didn’t have a helper.
‘I try to cope with this disability every day and being ordered off like that in front of my fellow passengers was a slap in the face. I felt humiliated and like a pariah who has no place in society.’
She added: ‘I am still waiting for a personal apology from EasyJet.
‘Their boss said he was sorry for my unpleasant experience, but only in a press release. I received no phone call from them.’
France’s disabled rights association the APF said after Tuesday’s ruling: ‘We are pleased at this exemplary sentence against Easyjet for discriminating against this woman because of her handicap.’
The case is one of two brought by wheelchair users against Easyjet in Paris courts.
The second case involves another wheelchair user who turned away from a flight from Paris to Portugal because she was travelling alone.
Easyjet’s French director Francois Bacchetta after Miss Hoarau launched her legal action: ‘I understand her feelings but we must respect very strict safety regulations.
‘In the event of an emergency, we need to be able to evacuate all passengers in 90 seconds.
‘When a disabled passenger checks in alone, we try to find them a helper but we prefer for this to be done at the check-in.’
In January 2012, Easyjet was also fined for refusing to allow three paraplegic passengers aboard flights in Paris in 2008 and 2009.
The French transport ministry said after that ruling: ‘EasyJet cannot hide behind safety regulations for refusing to board passengers who have difficulty moving around.’