Jetstar, the Australian budget airline, marked the International Day of Disabled Persons by refusing to let a blind passenger board a domestic flight with her guide dog.
Glen Bracegirdle and Kathryn Beaton, a blind couple, were attempting to board a flight out of Melbourne, when Jetstar staff told Ms Beaton that she was not allowed to board her guide dog â€“ even though the airline’s own policy permits “seeing dogs” to fly.
When the couple approached the Jetstar check-in counter with Prince, Ms Beaton’s four-year-old black labrador guide dog, the clerk on duty shouted at them: “No dogs, no dogs, no dogs.”
Two weeks ago Jetstar, the budget arm of Qantas, seized the wheelchair of champion disabled athlete Kurt Fearnley, forcing him to crawl through Brisbane airport on his stomach;
Mr Fearnley had just conquered the arduous Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea.
Ms Beaton and Mr Bracegirdle, the blind couple, later boarded an alternative airline and have since received a formal apology from Jetstar and an offer of free flights as compensation, but will report the incident to the Human Rights Commission.
“I’m not impressed that it had to come to this,” said Mr Bracegirdle, who like his wife is blind, but does not require a guide dog.
Bill Shorten, the Australian government’s parliamentary secretary for disabilities, said he was not impressed with Jetstar’s performance over the last few weeks and has demanded a meeting with the airline’s management.
“I’m furious. I’m sick of hearing about it,” he said. “Just because you’re blind and have a guide dog doesn’t mean you get to be treated like a second-class citizen.”
Jetstar, which is currently reviewing its wheelchair policy following complaints about its treatment of Mr Fearnley, said that the incident involving Ms Beaton had been amicably resolved.
Simon Westaway, a spokesman for the airline, said Jetstar had a “great record ” in its treatment of the disabled.
According to Mr Westaway the airline successfully carries around 500 passengers a week who are travelling with a either their own wheelchair or a registered guide dog.
“We’re carrying 25,000 people a day, 13 million plus customer movements a year,” he said. “[But] we’re a learning organisation. If there’s ways that we should be dealing with matters differently, we’re open [to that].” The federal government does not accept Jetstar’s explanation that the two incidents involving disabled passengers are unrelated.
“Jetstar tells me that these are two isolated incidents,” said Mr Shorten, the parliamentary secretary for disabilities. “But I think other people will say they’ve had two strikes in two weeks.”