(eTN) – PEOPLE with disabilities have significantly more trouble accessing airline services than five years ago, despite the introduction of a national standard to protect them.
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre surveyed 110 people with disabilities, their carers or advocates and found that only 14 had an overall positive experience when dealing with airlines.
Its report concludes that there has been “a systemic failure of airlines to improve access”. It has been submitted to a federal government five-year review of disability standards for accessible public transport.
The standards are a regulatory framework for all modes of public transport but there is no compliance monitoring or licensing requirement for airlines to meet the standards.
Even if the airlines do meet the standards, the report warned, the standards do not adequately protect the human rights of people with disabilities.
The complaints included airline announcements that delays were due to a wheelchair passenger, travel being refused unless the disabled person was accompanied by a carer, and broken wheelchairs due to negligent handling. In one case, a passenger was left on the tarmac with no assistance to the terminal entrance.
The centre’s chief executive officer, Robin Banks, said restrictive airline policies on aids such as wheelchairs or assistance animals and inadequate communication between staff and customers with a disability had lead to negative experiences for many disabled travellers.
“People reported things like they felt humiliated or they felt embarrassed, some of them said they wouldn’t be flying again, and the sense that people were afraid of the experience being repeated,” she said.
“The other really strong and common theme is a sense of frustration and a sense that the person they were dealing with couldn’t resolve, or was unwilling to attempt to resolve, the problem.”
The report, co-ordinated with the NSW Disability Discrimination Legal Centre, calls for an airline-specific code of practice to be developed in consultation with people with disabilities and administered by a relevant federal transport agency; mandatory reporting requirements, with data released annually; training courses in disability management for all airline staff; and an industry-based complaints process.
Ms Banks said that in a country such as Australia, where air travel was an important part of public transport, people with disabilities should not continue to confront accessibility problems.