DDA Complaint against Jetstar
The Complaint under the DDA
Wheelchair-user Sheila King lodged a Disability Discrimination Act
complaint against Jetstar when she was refused carriage on a flight between Adelaide and Brisbane four years ago.
The basis for Jetstar's refusal of service was that there were already two people using wheelchairs travelling on
Sheila was offered carriage on a later flight, but this did not
suit her other travel arrangements, and she had to travel with another airline at an increased
The Two-Wheelchair Policy
The two-wheelchair policy is practiced by low fares airlines
Jetstar, Virgin Australia and Tiger in Australian. Jetstar's parent airline Qantas and Virgin International flights
do not have this policy.
Under this policy, only two wheelchair-bound passengers are
allowed on a particular flight
Human Rights Conciliation Attempt
Sheila's complaint was investigated by the Australian Human Rights
Commission, and conciliation was attempted. Over 50 per cent of discrimination complaints are resolved this way,
but unfortunately this one was not. So Sheila exercised her right to take the complaint to the Federal
The Federal Court Decision
The Federal Court found that Sheila had been discriminated against
by Jetstar. However, the Court also found that to completely remove limits on numbers of passengers using
wheelchairs on narrow-bodied aircraft would cause Jetstar unjustifiable hardship. Sheila's complaint was therefore
dismissed. As is the usual rule in the courts, costs were awarded against the losing
Sheila King has said that she will appeal this decision to the
full Federal Court.
Federal Court Judge's Comment
Federal Court judge Alan Robertson ruled in favour of Jetstar
saying Ms King did not select "Wheelchairs" under a special requirements section of the airlines website and that
it had offered to put her on another flight.
Judge Alan Roberts said " I also take it into account that Jetstar
is a low cost Airline. This has the consequence that not as many services are available as many services are
available as a full cost Airline. Its relevant on this aspect of the case in my opinion, that the wheelchair
assistance services are of a substantial kind and duration."
Jetstar’s Comment on the Court Decision
Jetstar welcomed the decision and said "Jetstar's Two Wheelchair
practice has been found not be unlawful Discrimination. This practice is similar to that used by other low cost
carries in Australia, and is designed to balance care for passengers requiring assistance with the everyday
operational needs of a low fares Airline"
Sydney DDA adviser for Mrs King
Joanna Shulman, the head of Redfern Legal Centre in Sydney who
advised Ms King, says the ruling demonstrates that Australia's discrimination laws are not strong enough to protect
the rights of people with disabilities.
He also raised the issue of the extent to which a business could
adopt a business model that is Discriminatory, particularly when the business model came into existence after the
DDA came into effect in 1993.
"Ms King's experience demonstrates that these laws need to be
strengthened in order to ensure that service providers cannot discriminate on the grounds of disability," she
"Limitations on access to transport can affect a person's ability
to work, access health services, spend time with family or enjoy travel.
"Urgent reform is therefore needed to ensure equal access is
The Federal Government is currently reviewing the nation's
The Federal Court in Sydney later dismissed Ms King's appeal
against the original January judgment.
By John Bedwell Sydney Access Consultant for Obvius Access 18th December