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.
Once seated inside the aircraft, the movement of passengers with mobility impairments are extremely restricted. The few times that such passengers need to move around is to go to the toilet. An on-board aisle chair is used for this purpose. The on-board aisle chair is a narrow high-backed chair with small wheels. It is lightweight and foldable. When folded, it is very compact and fits into the overhead compartment of the aircraft. The aisle chair has straps for securing the chest, hip and ankles. This is to ensure that users with poor postural balance do not fall off the chair or get their limbs entangled in the chair or other things along the aisle. Cabin crews will usually assist to push the aisle chair to the toilet and back. Disabled persons who require the use of an on-board aisle chair should inform the airlines in advance as not all aircrafts are equipped with one.
Aisle chair that AirAsia displayed during a press conference on August 4, 2007.
The budget airlines announced that all its aircrafts will have aisle chairs.
Photo by Wuan.
Every journey has to come to an end. On a bus, one simply has to press the buzzer to let the driver know that he or she wants to get down at the next stop. I pressed the buzzer on my journey with the Barrier-Free Environment and Accessible Transport Group (BEAT) and had gotten down from the bus already.
The reaction from some of my colleagues in BEAT to my circulating an email on the bad experience with AirAsia to the entire group recently literally took the wind out of my sail. I was chided for revealing that I was compelled to sign an indemnity form before I was allowed to board the plane. I guess it never occurred to them what I had to give up the moment I signed the form.
I do not regret blogging about it. I do not regret being part of BEAT. I do not regret leaving BEAT. I am first and foremost a blogger. I want the freedom to blog without fear or favour. I will continue to blog about such injustices perpetrated against disabled people. This is what The Digital Awakening is all about – my life, my thoughts and my opinions.