Disabled woman banned by Jetstar seeks settlement

  • January 24, 2010
  • Bruce Bromley

Lawyers for a disabled woman who is suing Jetstar after she was banned from a flight from Adelaide to Brisbane have agreed to make one last attempt to settle before going to a Federal Court hearing.

Sheila King booked her flight over the internet in August 2008 but was contacted the next day and told she would not be able to fly on that day because there were already two passengers requiring wheelchair assistance booked on the flight.

She was told Jetstar had a policy of only allowing a maximum of two wheelchair-reliant passengers on any flight.

Ms King has taken the low-budget airline to the Federal Court, claiming it discriminated against her by “treating her less favourably than a passenger who did not have a mobility disability that required the use of a wheelchair”, a statement of claim tendered to the court says.

“The applicant was treated less favourably because she is accompanied by or possesses a wheelchair … (and) was refused access to, and the use of, the aircraft which performed (flight) JQ769 on the ground of her disability,” it says.

Ms King claims that in denying her the right to fly, Jetstar breached the Disability Discrimination Act.

Ms King has had post-polio syndrome since childhood and has been in a wheelchair since 2008 after a car accident that resulted in three crushed vertebrae and three broken ribs, a statement released by her lawyers and the NSW Disability Discrimination Legal Centre says.

But she is more than capable of looking after herself when she travels, she says.

“Ms King believes the Jetstar policy is arbitrary, because people who use wheelchairs require varying levels of assistance, and in her case the assistance required is minimal,” the statement read.

Lawyers for Ms King and Jetstar failed at conciliatory mediation in April last year but, in the Federal Court on Tuesday, Justice Michael Moore asked them to make one last effort to settle out of court before going to a hearing.

“It seems to me to be the sort of case that level and sensible heads might be capable of resolving,” Justice Moore said.

“As an informed citizen, if I can bifurcate myself for a moment and speak as a concerned citizen rather than a judge, there have been in the press recently two or three cases concerning (similar claims about) flight services for people with disabilities (that were settled out of court).

“A year has passed (since mediation) … (the parties) may be more conducive to settlement.”

Lawyers for both parties said they were happy to make one last attempt but Nicolas Patrick, acting for Ms King, noted that previous attempts at conciliation had failed.

He was concerned that delaying the hearing further would see the costs blow out even more, he said.

Justice Moore said if this final attempt failed he would hear the matter as soon as possible.