FFE Magazine

Filipina denied to board KLM flight to Brazil gets overwhelming support from Netizens

Arjean Marie Belco

Arjean Marie Belco, an 18-year-old indigenous Filipino woman from Bukidnon’s Talaandig tribe was en route to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for World Youth Day but was denied boarding on her onward flight on July 20 at the Kuala Lumpur airport, because the personnel of KLM Airlines said she appeared “not ready to travel” even if she had a folder with full documentation supporting her trip to Brazil.

Belco’s trip is being sponsored by Goodxorg (Good X or Good Exchanges), i s an NGO which is led by Luis Petzhold, a Brazilian filmmaker and youth advocate, and Risa Halaguena, a Filipina lawyer and writer. Sending Belco to Brazil to attend World Youth Day, an international Catholic event to be held from July 23 to 28. Belco’s trip is a pilot project of the group.

According to Goodxorg in their Facebook page:

Arjean went through immigration in Malaysia without incident and she headed to the KLM check-in counter for her next flight on July 20. To her surprise, she was not allowed to board on her connecting flight to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (via Amsterdam), where she will be attending World Youth Day. A KLM employee, Mr. Shawa, and his co-workers informed Arjean of their decision not to process her check-in. Based on Mr. Shawa’s assessment she was “not ready to travel” and “that he was doubtful” even if she had a folder with full documentation proving her trip to Brazil.

The KLM employee, Mr Shawa bombarded Belco with questions like
“Why is your passport so new?”
“Your ticket is too cheap”
“Your ticket was just purchased yesterday”
“Why flying through Malaysia if there are flights from the Philippines?”
“How much money you have?”

In Goodxorg’s letter to KLM, which was also posted on their Facebook page, they checked with KLM, before her departure from Manila, if Arjean needed a Dutch visa  since she would be having a 5hr stopover in Amsterdam, they were assured that she didn’t need to secure one.

At 18 this is her very first flight outside the country and thus the very new passport. An NGO and therefore functioning based solely on donations of sponsors, Goodxorg had to get the cheapest ticket for Belco which entailed a longer route and a stopover in Malaysia and Amsterdam.

Belco showed to the KLM staff all the documents in her possession, which included a bank statement from Cartwheel Foundation showing sufficient funds, and her $100 and P3,370 for her emergencies and meals before her connecting flights to Brazil, news clippings from the Philippine media about her trip, proof of enrollment with Pamulaan College and the University of South Eastern Philippines, that she is a Cartwheel Foundation scholar and that she is being sponsored by GoodX and Cartwheel for the trip.

In an attempt to prove her case she asked Mr. Shawa to contact her sponsors in the Philippines and the KLM but he denied the request; she also requested for him to call her sponsors in the Philippines and the KLM staff also denied the request. He stood ground on his decision to deny Belco to get into her flight.

When Petzhold talked to him by phone Mr. Shawa insisted there was nothing he could do and that we should “just buy another ticket”. He was even laughing while listening to our side. We believe this is unacceptable. After a long discussion, Mr. Shawa said that he could rebook her ticket only if we would get the Dutch Embassy to agree to her trip.

Petzhold, laments that Arjean’s case was case of discrimination based on appearance, gender, ethnicity, nationality, age or social status and it was not about the factors that Mr. Shawa was pointing out.

Because of this incident netizens have reacted protesting the treatment of Belco. Voice ranging from disbelief, anger, to disgust and a call for action against the airline and the KLM employee could be read in all the comments in all the articles about this sorry incident.

Belca after a two-day ordeal, that is -from being humiliated by the  KLM employee, missing her flight and having been held up in Malaysia for two nights finally reached her destination and managed to get to Brazil.

However the voice of dissent and anger can still be heard from the netizens and it seems like it is bound to get stronger, since this case is a glaring and blatant case of discrimination.

Goodxorg, is an NGO that believes in ‘experiential learning’ and that ‘travel, culture and creativity should be appreciated and nurtured at a young age’.

Share you Thoughts

Have you ever experienced being discriminated in your travels? Do you think the case of Arjean’s denial to board by the KLM employee was a case of discrimination?  Do you think the Philippine government should have been present somewhere in the travails she went through? Share your thoughts with us. Leave a comment below.




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