Jetstar to consult on disability issues

  • December 2, 2009
  • Bruce Bromley

Jetstar will meet with the federal government after another complaint was levelled against the airline over its mistreatment of disabled passengers.

However, Jetstar officials insist the latest incident, in which a legally blind passenger was refused a booking because of her guide dog, isn’t a sign the discount airline has a pattern of discrimination.

The complaint comes a week after Jetstar launched an investigation into its wheelchair procedures after paralympian Kurt Fearnley blasted the airline for forcing him to check in his personal wheelchair before boarding a plane.

“There is no link whatsoever. There are no systematic issues here,” Jetstar spokesman Simon Westaway told AAP on Thursday.

“This is simply a case of the wrong information being provided by, unfortunately, more than one individual.”

Glen Bracegirdle, 25, of Melbourne was told “No dogs, no dogs, no dogs” by a customer service clerk when he tried to book a flight to Sydney in advance for himself, his legally blind partner, Kathryn Beaton, and her four-year-old guide dog.

He had already travelled on the airline many times with the dog – and two guide dogs are allowed on board each Jetstar flight. This time, call centre staff disagreed until, after repeated calls, one staff member told him they were unsure about rules concerning seeing-eye dogs and offered a $50 voucher.

He booked flights on another airline instead.

Jetstar has since apologised and offered the couple free flights as compensation, pinning the problem on several staff members who gave out the wrong information about the company’s guide dog policies.

“We see the matter as closed. We do regret it,” Mr Westaway said.

Mr Bracegirdle said the apology was “a good result” but he was disappointed he had to lodge a complaint with the Human Rights Commission before the dispute could be settled.

“At this stage, I’m happy with the result,” he told AAP.

“I’m hoping I can let it go now and we can move on. I had hoped I would have heard from Jetstar within a week, so I’m not impressed it had to come to this.”

Upon hearing of the couple’s ordeal, Bill Shorten, parliamentary secretary for disabilities, demanded a meeting with Jetstar’s management.

“I’m furious. I’m sick of hearing about it,” he told AAP.

“Just because you’re blind and have a guide dog doesn’t mean you get to be treated like a second-class citizen.”

Jetstar said it was “keen to meet” with Mr Shorten to discuss the company’s disability policies.

Mr Shorten said he would demand the company hire a set of disability advisers to approve of their practices, and provide more training for customer staff.

Meanwhile, Jetstar still has not announced when its investigation into wheelchair accessibility will be complete.

Mr Westaway said the airline had to study all the airports it used before deciding on how to consistently provide access for wheelchairs.