Airlines warned not to bar disabled
Steve Creedy, Aviation writer | December 11, 2007
LOW-COST carriers have been warned not to attempt to cut costs by discriminating against the disabled after two airlines recently sought exemptions from laws designed to grant handicapped travellers equal access to transport.
Singapore-backed Tiger Airways has applied to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission for an exemption to the Disability Act so it cantemporarily refuse to carry some passengers with limited mobility.
It says it needs to do this because it does not have the equipment to get wheelchair-bound people safely on to its Airbus A320 jets.
Disability groups are also fighting a move by Australia’s biggest independent regional carrier, Regional Express (Rex), to introduce restrictions they say will make flying harder for disabled people in the bush.
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre is pursuing court action against Virgin Blue to head off moves to require some people with disabilities to buy a second ticket for a carer if they want to travel.
“It’s fine for low-cost or budget airlines to reduce services,” human rights commissioner Graeme Innes said yesterday. “But not carrying passengers with disabilities can’t be part of those reductions and to do so is against the law.
“As commissioner, I intend to ensure wherever I can that airlines meet their obligations to all passengers, not just passengers without disabilities.”
Tiger is offering affected passengers a full refund and says the problem stems from the inability of its third-party ground handler to obtain special hydraulic devices capable of lifting wheelchairs on to planes. It did not expect the lifters to be available at all destinations until the end of February.
Tiger’s application comes as a report, due to be released this week by the PIAC, says an analysis of the experiences of 110 airline passengers demonstrates a systemic failure of legislation introduced in 2002 to set standards for disabled access to public transport.
The report finds recent development and application of airline policy, and changes to baggage handling, have made disabled access more difficult, particularly for people with motorised or bigger wheelchairs.
“Some passengers who travelled independently for many years now find themselves barred from travel or facing the imposition of unreasonable conditions,” it says.