Today the New Zealand Herald published an article about an apology from budget airline Jetstar – they apologised for ‘inhumane’ treatment of a passenger asking a refund on a flight because of the 22 February 2011 earthquake that hits Christchurch (which, incidentally, has killed 160 people at the time of this writing).
The story is appaling – but the cynical part of me just isn’t surprised. It isn’t the first time I hear about that airline treating people badly. Of interest to me here, is the multiple stories of Jetstar treating passengers with disabilities like crap.
Refusing to Carry Wheelchair Users
In 2005, Jetstar tried to stop two wheelchair athletes from travelling on their plane because they didn’t have "carers". Even though the wheelchair users did not need assistance or "caring". The two tennis player were going to the Australian Tennis Open tournament. The pilot was the individual who was trying to get them off the plane. Eventually the pilot decided that they could pretend two of the flight attendants could be the passenger’s carers. Last I heard, the airline was "investigating".
In August 2008, Sheila King booked flights online on Jetstar from Adelaide to Brisbane. She was contacted the next day to be told Jetstar couldn’t fly her because there were already 2 passengers in wheelchairs on the flight. Allowing more than 2 would breach their policy. Mediation attempts have been made, but failed. The case is likely to be heard in Australian Federal Court.
In December 2008, Glen McDonald flew from Australia to Thailand with Jetstar. But on his way back, 2 months later, Jetstar told him they were not able to take him home. He had already checked-in his luggage and gotten through customs. He was told at the plane gate that he wasn’t allowed on the plane because he couldn’t walk. He "made a fuss" and was booked on another flight the following day and given a voucher to pay for a night at a hotel. Jetstart apologised, citing a mix-up with company policy…
In August 2009, Jude Lee was told he wouldn’t be able to fly on Jetstar because their records did not indicate he was a “wheelchair passenger”. The lift was broken and staff could not get him on the plane. In January 2010, he was told that an aisle chair was not available to get him on the plane either. On both occasions, he ended up having to be manually lifted by male airline employees to get on the plane. Mr Lee is a quadriplegic and happens to be a lawyer. He is suing the company. Jetstar does not deny the allegations, but claims that because they are a budget airline the way they handled the situation did not breach the Australian Anti-Discrimination Act.
Wheelchairs as Checked Luggage
In 2009, Kurt Fearnley was forced to check his wheelchair as luggage on a Jetstar flight. This meant he would have to use one of the airport wheelchairs – which cannot be operated by the person sitting in it. Fearnley, a paralympic athlete, said that “An able-bodied equivalent, a normal person’s equivalent, would be having your legs tied together, your pants pulled down and be carried or pushed through an airport.”
Breaking Equipment and Injuring Passengers
In 2009, Trevor Carroll flew on Jetstar to Melbourne. The airline significantly damaged his 4-wheeled walking frame. While they offered to get the mobility device fixed, Mr Carroll was stranded in the airport. Staff offered to push him in an airport wheelchair to the car Carroll’s wife had parked in the 2 minutes pick-up zone. This staff mis-handled the wheelchair and as a result Carroll was tipped out of the chair and injured. He spent 6 days in hospital, incurred medical expenses and missed work. Jetstar is investigating.
No Guide Dogs
In November 2009, two blind individuals were refused sale of tickets on Jetstar after one of them said they were travelling with a Guide Dog. The airline clerk just said "no dogs", and even after escallating the call with a manager the situation didn’t improve.
No Wheelchair, and Luggage Surcharge
In 2010, Kellin Hyde was refused a wheelchair because his mother hadn’t notified Jetstar of the need ahead of time. Kellin, then 5 years old, had just received a heart transplant. It was the first time he was going home after spending 5 months on a mechanical heart. The airline also insisted his mother pay for the suitcase required to carry medical equipment and medication home. The family could not afford Christmas presents after that.
No More Than 2 Wheelchairs Per Flight
In February 2011, Natasha Utting (Campbell Live) told the story of a group of 8 friends, 5 of them wheelchair users, who had to book three separate flights because Jetstar won’t allow more than 2 wheelchairs at a time. This seems to be the same policy as the one Sheila King encountered in 2008. One of the people commenting on the story said they did not see a problem with that policy – they perceive a safety issue, suggesting that it isn’t possible to help more than 2 wheelchair users at a time.
Yet, it is obviously possible for large groups of wheelchair users to travel together. Also in 2011, Emirates carried a group of over 35 disabled athletes for the IPC World Championships from New Zealand to the UK. Granted, Emirates also had a major logistical problem, stranding their disabled passengers in Dubai. But this seems to have been a series of extraordinary issues culminating in the stranding of the entire team, rather than airline policy or employee attitudes.
I Will Never Fly Jetstar
I won’t ever fly Jetstar if I can help it. I have no desire to be manhandled to be boarded. I have no desire to be forced to use their wheelchairs, and as a result get injured. I don’t want to be left stranded with broken equipment. I don’t want to be refused passage because of my mobility assistance dog. I don’t want to be left in a foreign country and refused passage home. No amount of money savings can make up for those risks.
Jetstar doesn’t have the monopoly on discriminating against and mistreating passengers with disabilities – other airlines also mess up (here’s an incident that happened to me on another airline). But they have a bad track record. And while they keep apologising, they don’t seem to be learning – the situation isn’t improving.