A passenger who was told she couldn’t board a Jetstar flight in a wheelchair due to windy weather criticized the airline for poorly serving passengers with disabilities.
Rebecca Angel, who has used a wheelchair since she was 15 due to a condition called type 2 motor and sensory neuropathy, booked a three-night girls’ weekend on the Gold Coast with friends for August 18.
However, after arriving at Melbourne airport, Angel was told that her friends could board but would have to rebook her on a separate flight the next day as the airline’s wheelchair lift was unable to operate. with strong winds.
“This would significantly shorten my trip. I was quite direct and said that I booked a vacation with my friends and that I was hoping to travel with my friends,” Angel said, noting that he received no prior warning about the possibility of not flying.
Jetstar staff eventually rebooked Angel and his companions on a flight to Brisbane later that day, but only after Angel demanded a better solution.
“If I hadn’t repeatedly pushed Jetstar, my friends would have flown on the original flight and just rebooked me for the next day,” he said. “For an airline to be unable to board people due to wind is outrageous.”
Angel said he received a follow-up call and email from Jetstar’s customer service department, wanting to explain the situation.
“I wrote back and said I didn’t need a call, but I wanted to fly back with Qantas in case, God forbid, it gets windy and I can’t get home. They accommodated me,” he said.
A Jetstar spokesman apologized for the inconvenience, citing safety concerns.
“Our team worked to quickly organize an alternative Qantas flight to Brisbane and a taxi to the Gold Coast,” the spokesman confirmed.
Angel’s case is the latest in a wave of complaints against Australian airlines and airports over disability standards, with more high-profile incidents involving Australian Paralympian Karni Liddell and model Akii Ngo.
In June, Liddell slammed Jetstar after being told he couldn’t take his wheelchair on a trip to Proserpine because it contained a lithium battery, despite previously agreeing to special approvals. In the previous month, Ngo, while returning from Australian Fashion Week in Sydney, suffered a concussion, a broken rib and torn ligaments after she was accidentally thrown from her wheelchair by apparently inexperienced mobility support staff. .
The Australian Human Rights Commission has filed 118 disability discrimination complaints against airlines in relation to alleged breaches of the Disability Discrimination Act since 2016. Of these, almost 30% related to wheelchair complaints; another 30 percent to service animals.
Simon Darcy, professor of social inclusion at the University of Technology Sydney, said passengers with disabilities are falling through the cracks amid the current disruptions in the aviation industry, with emerging issues that were “totally foreseeable”.
Despite ongoing recruitment efforts in the aviation sector, Darcy says the loss of experienced ground staff during the pandemic is to blame in most cases.
“Airports and airlines need to up their game by providing training for new staff who have little or no experience, given that those who were laid off have not returned to the airline industry,” he said.
Darcy further noted “generally lower levels of service delivery by low-cost airlines,” which still rely on tarmac wheelchair lifts to board passengers (rather than airlift access) and have significant limits on customers with wheelchairs per flight. Jetstar offers wheelchair assistance for a maximum of two customers per domestic flight and up to nine per international flight.
“People with disabilities have lower incomes, they have higher unemployment rates — we know that from the statistics. That means they are doubly disenfranchised if they don’t have access to a low-cost airline as well,” Darcy said. “It also means that people are pushed towards full-cost airlines, and that limits those who don’t have the means.”
Angel believes current policy allows low-cost airlines to openly discriminate against customers with disabilities and says she is exhausted from having to “fight for basic rights”.
“Why should I pay a higher price for Qantas or even Virgin Australia to fly wheelchairs?” Angel said.
Federal Transport Minister Catherine King said continued reports of airport access assistance problems affecting Australians with disabilities “just aren’t good enough”.
“Every person who boards an airplane should be treated with dignity and respect, as well as have access to the services and supports they need,” King said.
Plans to reform disability standards for accessible public transport are currently underway following consultation, with recommendations due to be presented to transport ministers in mid-2023.