Esme went on a Tigerair flight to Phuket yesterday, but she had no in-flight meal and not even a seat number. Yes, it was a budget flight, but that was not the reason.
You see, Esme is no ordinary passenger but a dog with a mission: to guide visually impaired owner Cassandra Chiu, 35, a counsellor, safely to Phuket.
The nearly five-year-old Labrador is the first guide dog to be allowed to fly on Tigerair, which is lifting curbs after it made headlines early last year for refusing a guide dog on board one of its flights.
Yesterday's flight was part of a trial, and a report on it will be submitted to the authorities to seek approval for the policy change, said Ho Yuen Sang, Tigerair's chief operating officer.
He said the airline has been working with the Guide Dogs Association of the Blind over the last four months, and eight members of its cabin crew have been trained to assist visually impaired passengers.
When asked why Tigerair is changing its policy only now, Mr Ho said that as a budget carrier, it also had to see to more pressing issues such as ensuring calls to its call centre are answered promptly.
"As we have settled other customer service issues, it is time for us to move on to another stage," he said.
Under the new policy, certified guide dogs with the necessary paperwork would be allowed on all flights in the space in front of first-row seats. Owners are encouraged to book at least two weeks ahead to ensure that the seats are available.
There will also be a handling fee of $50. Dog owners will have to bring an absorbent mat for the dog to lie on, in case it has to relieve itself.
Other Singapore-based airlines, such as Singapore Airlines, SilkAir and Scoot, allow guide dogs.
Ms Chiu is glad that Tigerair is making air travel more accessible for people with disabilities.
"Previously, I had to use other options to fly...but now I'm very happy that Tiger can be another alternative."
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