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.
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.
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.
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