Sky high discrimination

Ghadir Omran
Australian airlines do not always treat people with a disability fairly. Most airlines have also not said how they are going to improve. Many people have complained they have been treated badly because of their disabilities. Wheelchair users have been unable to fly because of limits. People have been told they could not take their assistance dogs on the plane. One person with a disability was left behind on a plane for 45 minutes. DiVine has received complaints from people about bad treatment.
Posted by: 
Ghadir Omran on 04/03/2011
A close up of an A318 aeroplane

DiVine has received complaints by people with a disability about airlines

Australian airlines continue to discriminate against people with a disability. All but one Australian airline failed to meet a deadline last year to detail improvements. An industry working group had agreed all airlines and airports would submit plans on how they would better cater to passengers with disabilities. But Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes says most airlines have ignored the deadline. He says they continue to breach the Disability Discrimination Act.

The issue received a lot of media attention in 2009 after Kurt Fearnley criticised Jetstar. The athlete, adventurer and ambassador for International Day of People with a Disability was angry because Jetstar staff insisted he check in his wheelchair with his other luggage. Rather than use a transit chair provided, Fearnley chose to crawl across the Brisbane airport tarmac.

Disappointing incidents

There have been many other disappointing incidents publicised recently. A blind couple was told by two airline staff they could not take their assistance dog onboard a flight. A man was told he would have to dismantle his wheelchair to fit in the plane’s cargo hold. Three friends using wheelchairs were not able to fly together. A group of Deaf people was told they needed a carer to fly. And a person with a disability was left on a plane for 45 minutes and only discovered by cleaning staff.

DiVine has also received complaints by people with a disability about Australian airlines.

Three different complaints

Samantha has filed three different complaints about Australian airlines with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. Samantha says the two wheelchair limit on flights was the problem. The policy had stopped her travelling to meetings on a number of occasions.

Samantha says airlines also treat her mobility aids with little respect. Her mobility aid was damaged on a flight and the carrier has been uncooperative about compensation.

Samantha says the responsibility to care for people with a disability in Europe and the United States has been given to airport management. She believes this should happen in Australia.

Bad experiences

Jo has also had bad experiences when flying. Travelling locally, the airport staff were rude and uncooperative, particularly on one occasion, says Jo. At the time I had a limited walking and standing capacity and required a walker or crutches.

Having been dropped off at the security point with my hand luggage in a trolley, I walked to the security check, Jo says. Suddenly the trolley was snatched from me and my hand luggage dumped beside me. I called to the person and asked how I was going to carry my hand luggage. His response was that it was my problem. He said you cannot not take a trolley through security.

Offended by treatment

Marrette is legally blind. She reported to DiVine she has never been told where the toggles on the safety life jackets were located. She was worried about what would happen in the unfortunate case of an accident.

Marrette has also been offended by treatment from airline staff. For one flight, airport staff brought out a wheelchair. She is visually impaired but has no problem walking. Marrette says airport staff communication was poor.

Tip of the iceberg

Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes is worried that publicised incidents are only the tip of the iceberg. He is particularly concerned about wheelchair limits. A budget Irish airline is the only other carrier in the world known to have such a restriction.

Mr Innes has repeatedly expressed concerns that airlines and airports are not practicing equality. Considering one in five Australians lives with a disability, he says it is time for mandatory rules for airlines and airports. Mr Innes says equality laws should be treated as seriously as safety laws.

Meanwhile, Delta Airlines has been fined $2 million by the United States Department of Transportation for violating rules regarding passengers with a disability. It is the largest fine to an airline not related to a safety issue.


Tell us about your experiences with Australian airlines in the comments section below.

Readers comments (4)

When I went to check in for my Tiger Airways flight, the person checking me in told me I wouldn't be able to fly because they don't accept any kinds of dogs on board. I told her my dog is an accredited assistance dog (accepted to fly by CASA), and that I'd informed the Tiger Airways staff when I booked my flight about my assistance dog, and that we'd flown with Tiger Airways before.

She smirked at me and said that somebody must have made a mistake in letting me fly, because they never accept any kinds of dogs, including guide dogs or assistance dogs on board. She spoke loudly and by this time people were looking at us. I felt humiliated.

I told her again that I am allowed to fly with my assistance dog and that she could check with her supervisor. She spoke to somebody and then told me the supervisor had agreed with her that I wouldn't be allowed to fly. Her tone was very sarcastic and dismissive.

Finally after waiting she went and talked to somebody else she just handed me my boarding pass. She didn't say sorry.

The article expresses this issue of equity for the disabled as it is in reality. The humilation experienced when travelling is devasting to a person who is trying to lead a 'normal' life.

A disabling event can occur at anytime to anyone it is not a reserved occupation. Something that staff serving the public anywhere should remember.

My friends and family avoid flying at all costs because of the discrimination against Disabled People and seniors.

About time we gave our Human Rights process the power to deal properly with these culprits.

Anonymous complaints, and the HR the judge + jury.

Is it discrimination or NOT under the DDAct . If so the HR to deal with offenders post haste.

Australia has one of the worst HR process for disabled people in the world. We need a better model and suggest theAustralian Government look at the American Department oof Justice.

I have been lucky enough to fly quite a few times with Jetstar and Qantas in Australia and with a few other airlines internationally, taking my wheelchair with me. I have nearly always been treated by airline staff very courteously. They have usually treated me with respect and have been very helpful.

I have only experienced one episode where this was not the case and this was at Heathhrow Airport London. The woman who was to assist me made me struggle to step to her rather than she walk to me and she deposited me in a lounge to wait where there was no wheelchair assistance to the plane. A transport vehicle came by but you had to walk to and off it. There was a scurry at the last minute to get a wheelchair.

My disappointments with air travel have been around the transport of my wheelchair. Although most of the time my wheelchair has come out at the other end it has usually been upside down or sideways on its electrics. Sometimes it arrives from Special Baggage but most times on the moving baggage way where it is hard to get off. Once it was lost but the airline gave me a replacement wheelchair and then delivered mine the next day. Once it was twisted because the angle of the moving baggage way turn did not match the length of my wheelchair.

So my main apprehension when traveling is how and if my wheelchair turns up at the destination. As far as my person is concerned I feel very lucky to have escaped what others have experienced.

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