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Airline Responds To Advocates By Changing "Carer" Ticket Requirement

by Dave Reynolds (subscribe)

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA--Pressure from disability rights advocates and passengers with disabilities caused Virgin Blue Airlines to back down on new policies it had planned to implement this week.

The airline announced Monday that, beginning Thursday, any passenger who needs help getting to and from the toilet would have to purchase an extra ticket for his or her own assistant or "carer".

Virgin Blue added that those passengers who need help getting on and off the plane would have to arrange for their own help at departure and arrival points.

Complaints soon came in from many passengers, including Paralympic champion Paul Nunnari.

"This is a completely antiquated and ludicrous notion," Nunnari told the Sydney Morning Herald.

"I don't want to stereotype but a lot of people with disabilities don't earn a lot of money, so to come up with funds for another ticket for a carer just wasn't practical," he added.

"And the other side of that, I mean, as a service as you would expect with any kind of service. It's like when you invite someone over for dinner, you accommodate them, and as an airline, I would expect they would accommodate all their passengers."

On Thursday, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission announced in a press release that Virgin Blue had changed its policy to apply only to passengers weighing over 130 kilograms (287 pounds) who have disabilities that affect their mobility.

Graeme Innes, the HREOC commissioner responsible for disability discrimination, said the commission would continue talks with Virgin Blue and other airlines about disability-related issues.

"Virgin's decision to change their policy is a good first step," Innes said.

"While this decision does not alter Virgin Blue’s policies requiring certain passengers with disabilities to travel with a carer, a matter that remains of concern, this is an important step in resolving some of the issues that have been raised publicly."

Virgin Blue spokesperson Heather Jeffery told The Australian: "It has never been our intent to discriminate or confuse people and we are sorry this has occurred. Our intention has always been to offer enhanced services to all guests."

"Airline to wheelchair users: pay a carer" (Sydney Morning Herald)
"Virgin Blue amends policy after backlash" (The Australian)