News State Western Australia News Virgin refuses to fly disabled Indigenous teen to medical appointment

Virgin refuses to fly disabled Indigenous teen to medical appointment

Anthony waits to board the flight from Broome to Perth, a journey he wasn't allowed to make. Photo: Heather Hansen
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Virgin Australia says it is investigating how and why a wheelchair-bound Kimberley teenager was dumped from one of its flights to Perth.

Sixteen-year-old Anthony, who has cerebral palsy, was due to travel from Broome to Perth for a medical appointment on July 22.

But when Anthony and his carer Heather Hansen arrived at Broome Airport, Virgin staff said they had not received notice of his special requirements and would not be able to assist with getting him on the aircraft.

“They expected me to move him from one wheelchair to another wheelchair,” Ms Hansen said.

“And if we got on the plane, I had to move him from the wheelchair to the seat.”

Ms Hansen, who is in her 60s, said it would not be physically possible for her to lift Anthony’s 75kg frame on her own.

She said the trip had been booked through the West Australian Government’s Patient Assisted Travel Scheme (PATS) and she had informed them of Anthony’s requirements.

“It’s very frustrating, because it has happened to me a few times,” Ms Hansen said.

Correct information provided: Country Health

The WA Country Health Service said it passed on all of Anthony’s requirements to the travel agent who booked the ticket on their behalf.

On its website, Virgin Australia stresses the need for disabled passengers and their carers to provide as much information as possible to ensure the right equipment is available.

It also states that its staff are able to provide assistance to patients weighing up to 130kg.

The ABC understands Anthony was offered credit for the cost of his flight after he was unable to board.

“The safety and comfort of our guests is of utmost importance and we are currently investigating this matter,” a Virgin spokesperson said in a statement.

Disabled face many challenges: Commissioner

Disability Discrimination Commissioner Alastair McEwin said it was not uncommon for people with a disability to experience negative responses and attitudes when travelling in Australia and abroad.

“With respect to airline travel, some of the recurring issues are around the level of service people with disability receive from airline staff,” he said.

“It is not uncommon for people with disability to experience negative responses and attitudes at check-in, boarding, during flights and disembarkation.”

He said a rethink of aircraft design would be a useful step forward.

“We would not be seeing logistical difficulties if planes were built and configured to ensure that anyone, including those with mobility issues, can board and sit on planes like anyone else,” Mr McEwin said.

“One way of achieving this is to use the ‘universal’ or ‘inclusive’ design approach.”

He said that a lack of familiarity of the needs of disabled people, including not knowing how to handle wheelchairs, was a particularly common problem.

“We often also hear of stories of damage occurring to wheelchairs,” he said.

“In short, airlines often make it unnecessarily very difficult for people with disability to travel.”