Trouble Brewing Down Under

There’s trouble brewing in those friendly (or should I say unfriendly?) skies down in OZ these days. Actually it’s been an ongoing battle, between disability rights advocates and the airlines that serve Australia. At issue are any number of things, from limiting the number of wheelers on certain flights to size restrictions placed on wheelchairs carried on regional jets. Over the years, it’s just been one thing after another.

At the forefront of the current brouhaha are Tiger Airways and Regional Express (Rex); both of whom have applied to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) for exemptions from complying with disability regulations.

Tiger Airways wants a temporary exemption, so it can refuse passage to wheelchair-users, as they claim they have no way to board them on their Airbus 320 jets.

Rex, on the other hand, is seeking to place weight restrictions on wheelchairs they will carry and to require some disabled passengers to travel with attendants. This includes anybody who cannot put on a life vest unassisted, as well as people who can’t assist with their own transfers.

And then there’s Virgin Blue, who has raised the ire of Australian disability rights groups, for requiring some wheelers to travel with companions. That issue is currently being resolved in court.

So it comes as no big shock that “disabled air passenger satisfaction” is at an all time low down under. In fact, a recent survey revealed that a measly 12% of disabled passengers had an overall positive air travel experience. Specific issues of concern ranged from broken wheelchairs and untrained customer service agents to one instance of a wheelchair-user being allegedly abandoned on the tarmac, with no offer of assistance from airline personnel.

Granted the specific instances reported in this survey are undocumented, however you can tell from the overall tone that things are just not good.

The HREOC will continue to monitor the situation, however in the past they’ve made some questionable (IMHO) rulings.

For now, it’s best to just be prepared if you travel by air in Australia. Hopefully the situation will improve in the future, but for the time being, do your research and be aware of the potential problems you may face. And if you can, think of some possible solutions to those problems, so at least you’ll have some sort of a plan of action if things go awry.