Australian airlines and airports urged to improve treatment of disabled travellers

<span>Photo: Julian Smith/AAP</span>” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/″ data- src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/″/></div>
<p><figcaption class=Photo: Julian Smith/AAP

The chairman of the disability royal commission has written to Australia’s airlines and airport bosses to improve their treatment of disabled travellers, after the inquiry heard stories of people falling to the floor and discrimination against assistance dogs.

The royal commission has so far heard that disabled people are regularly subjected to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation when flying domestically, and participants told the inquiry they felt airlines were “dehumanizing” them. on them and that complaints are rarely followed up. Advocates have told Guardian Australia that often the only recourse is to complain through the Australian Human Rights Commission.

In a letter sent to various chief executives this week, Ronald Sackville KC expressed concern that disabled people have been reported to the royal commission, and that often “facilities and services are inaccessible” and “unhelpful practices and systems adopted by airlines” by travelers.

Related: The Australian man says he was booted from the Qatar Airways flight because of his disability

Sackville listed shortcomings raised by disabled people that airlines and airports could address to make flying a “more inclusive experience”.

“People with disabilities often face avoidable challenges when traveling by air,” Sackville wrote. “Domestic airlines and airports can do more to address these challenges.”

Sackville wrote about how disabled people told the commission that their wheelchairs had been damaged during travel and that airlines had not taken responsibility for fixing the issue.

He also outlined stories of disabled travelers falling to the floor because the wheelchair lift was not being used properly by air staff.

The commissioner also drew attention to limited access to safe ramps and discrimination against people who rely on assistance dogs.

Sackville’s letter follows workshops with 60 disabled Australians last year about their experiences, which also found that discrimination and poor service were more prominent among flight cancellations – which were at record levels in the middle of last year.

Disabled people said they were an “afterthought” when passengers were managed on canceled flights.

“When questions are presented to them, they are easily dismissed and not taken seriously,” said one participant.

The royal commission’s findings follow the Guardian’s report on disabled travelers being refused help and left stranded at airports – with their complaints falling on deaf ears.

In August, Tony Jones, who is confined to a wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury, lodged a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission after he was turned away at the gate while trying to board Jetstar flight in Sydney.

Lawyers representing Jones have said the industry’s compliance with disability standards is low, and that the onus is not on airlines and airports but on individuals to make discrimination complaints – the AHRC is the only way.

In June, a French national who suffered severe spinal cord damage after being shot during a terrorist attack in Paris said he was left in an airbridge at Sydney airport with his young family for more than an hour. In December, a man who needed a wheelchair said he was removed from a Qatar Airways flight after boarding the plane and left at Melbourne airport because of his disability.

A statement on behalf of Qantas and Jetstar said the airline group was “considering the matters raised”. “Qantas and Jetstar are working hard to improve the experience for customers with accessibility needs.”

A Virgin Australia spokeswoman said the royal commission’s letter would be given “very close consideration”. “We know how important it is to make sure we make airline travel inclusive and accessible for all our guests.”

Guardian Australia has also contacted Rex for comment.

Speaking generally about the issues faced by air travelers with disabilities, James Goodwin, chief executive of the Airports Association of Australia, said the industry had launched initiatives with hidden disabled members.

Goodwin added that issues have been more significant in the past year given the pandemic that has plagued aviation staff and a largely new, less experienced workforce filling their shoes.

“Airports continue to work with other parts of the industry – including government agencies that work at airports – and stakeholders to share information so we can continue to promote comprehensive and consistent practices,” said Goodwin.

Leave a comment