Virgin Blue Goes to Court

Well it seems Virgin Blue is on the way to court regarding their discriminatory practices Down Under. Wheelchair-users Jackie May and Morris Corcoran are bringing an action against Virgin Blue for their policy of requiring wheelchair-users to travel with an attendant (on their own dime).Their argument seems to be that in an emergency (say the plane goes down) everybody will be equally disabled because able-bodied passengers will most likely sustain injuries, so wheelchair-users won’t require any more evacuation assistance than the other (formerly able-bodied) passengers.

Although I agree with their cause, I’m not sure I buy their argument. There are some non-injury emergencies (say when smoke fills the cabin due to an electrical fire) when it’s essential to evacuate the cabin immediately. In those cases, wheelchair-users would require more assistance than able-bodied passengers.

I do however think it would be easy for the flight attendants just to ask for volunteers to provide emergency assistance to wheelers traveling alone. They could do this during the safety briefing. How hard would that be? It’s a simple (and cheap) solution.

Now if a wheelchair-user needs assistance eating or in the aircraft lavatory, I think they should provide their own attendant and pay for it. After all they are probably going to need this assistance at their destination too, and I don’t see it as the airline’s responsibility to pay for transportation of a PCA to provide services at the destination. And I don’t feel it’s the flight attendant’s job to provide personal assistance. But this particular case is only talking about emergency assistance, not personal assistance.

I do however hope the plaintiffs prevail in the Virgin Blue case, but again I feel their argument is shaky. Can’t they argue it as a discrimination issue? I mean some elderly people, who have no apparent physical disability, would also require assistance in an emergency; but they are not required to travel with an attendant. Seems kind of unfair to me. After all, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

It will be interesting to see how this case develops. It’s scheduled to be heard in September.