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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 that flight.

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 cost  .   

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 Court. 

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 party. 

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 said. 

"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 achieved." 

The Federal Government is currently reviewing the nation's discrimination laws. 

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 2012 

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