Quickhit: Athlete Kurt Fearnley lambastes abusive Jetstar wheelchair policy

There are lots and lots and lots of problems with the way people with disabilities are treated while travelling. This is just one of them.

ABC: Fearnley blasts Jetstar’s wheelchair policy

Disabled athlete Kurt Fearnley has used the National Disability Awards in Canberra to take a swipe at budget airline Jetstar, which made him check in his personal wheelchair as luggage.

Mr Fearnley, a multiple wheelchair marathon winner, had just arrived in Brisbane from Papua New Guinea after crawling the Kokoda track.

He says he was humiliated when he was offered an alternative but unsuitable wheelchair, which he declined to use.

“I said there is not a chance that I am going to sit there and be pushed through an airport,” he said. “An able-bodied equivalent, a normal person’s equivalent would be having your legs tied together, your pants pulled down and be carried or pushed through an airport.”

Mr Fearnley says he chose to crawl around Brisbane airport, including through a toilet, while he waited for his flight.

Update 24 November 2009: Not only do Jetstar force you to surrender mobility gear and immobilise you in a wheelchair that you can’t push; they then break your checked mobility equipment, force you into a wheelchair, then tip you onto the road, resulting in days in hospital.

Categories: Miscellaneous

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12 replies

  1. I’ve seen (and used on one occasion) those airline wheelchairs. I don’t blame the guy for objecting and refusing to use the silly thing. They can only be operated by someone pushing them, the airline has at best one or two per airport (so if you have a long wait between flights, you’re going to be wheeled to the spot where you should be waiting and left there – tough luck if you need to go to the loo), and they’re barely sufficient to get a person from the check-in desk to the doors of the aircraft. I mean, okay, I can vaguely understand the rationale behind asking wheelchair users to have their personal chairs checked as baggage (although I still think it’s a damn stupid idea, since a person’s personal chair is the one they’re most used to and with which they have the greatest amount of experience) and I can understand the airports playing security theatre wanting people who use mobility aids to be using airport-provided ones (for whatever reasons). But if you’re going to insist on a person using an alternative mobility aid which is supplied by your company, it should be of the same calibre.
    My own experience of how unthinking the airline staff can be about such things comes from a trip from Perth to Canbrrra when I’d acquired a broken ankle as one of my souvenirs from my trip home. I was travelling with Virgin Blue, and they were great at Perth airport (heck, they managed to get me three seats to myself on a crowded flight because I needed to have the ankle supported). But I had to change planes at Adelaide in order to get to Canbrrra, with a three hour wait between flights. I arrived at roughly 3pm Adelaide time (too late for lunch, too early for dinner) having had nothing to eat all day, and was promptly escorted to the (west-facing, glassed-in) transfer lounge, where I was shown to a seat, and the wheelchair was taken away. Not only could I not get myself anything to eat or drink (due to a combination of mobility issues and too much hand baggage) I also had a job and three-quarters just to go to the loo (took about 5 minutes each way, on crutches). If I’d been even half as aware of mobility issues as I am today, I’d’ve complained. Sadly, I didn’t.

  2. What a fabulous way to make a point and so horrible that he had to. If only they’d thought how degrading having that control of ones movement taken away is (especially for someone as independent as Fernley seems to be!!!) I hope some policies get changed because of this!

  3. More than that, I’ve seen plenty of parents and caregivers taking their strollers up to the gate and onto the flight, with flight attendants taking the stroller at the door and stowing it. So they’ve got systems for managing similar sorts of items. What’s the big deal with doing the same for wheelchairs and other mobility devices?

  4. Just added to post:
    Update 24 November 2009: Not only do Jetstar force you to surrender mobility gear and immobilise you in a wheelchair that you can’t push; they then break your checked mobility equipment, force you into a wheelchair, then tip you onto the road, resulting in days in hospital.

  5. Bill Shorten :

    ”It isn’t acceptable that they put an elite athlete in a chair which is not appropriate and say, ‘Do this or you can’t fly or you can’t get from A to B’,” Mr Shorten said.

    I have quite a lot of respect for Bill Shorten, but Kurt Fearnely’s athleticism is really not relevant, they should not be taking away anyone’s mobility aids. I hope lots of people get in contact with his office and let him know their experiences with travel, the frequency with which their equipment is damaged, how they are often left stranded. Judging by the awful stories people have shared on various threads here, airlines need a jolly good boot up the arse from someone wielding a bit of power.

  6. su: Exactly. The problem isn’t that an “athlete” was “degraded” (being unable to move under your own steam is not inherently degrading), the problem is that a person was deliberately immobilised, given inappropriate equipment for his disability, and denied agency. And, very likely, then they were planning to have him carted around inexpertly by people who are not well trained in working for PWD.
    Shorten gives the impression of only caring because Fearnley is well known enough that this got publicity – if he’s read the reports he’s supposed to be reading, he knows damn well that these sorts of problems happen every single day.

  7. The comments coming out of the Adelaide Now website on this are just appalling.
    Most seem to be of the opinion “those are the rules, get over yourself”. Some have been quite rude about Kurt’s decision to not accept their wheelchair or about him personally. Some suggest that he wants special treatment because he’s famous.
    Sheesh. They just don’t *get* it.

  8. yeah… don’t read the comments on news websites unless you wants you brain / heart / soul / sense / sanity to bleed with frustration. People can be so damn ignorant.

  9. Yes, I think Fearnley is making a great statement for the independence of people with a disability. He’s lifting the debate to another (long overdue/over looked) level.

  10. Oh, BOGGLE.
    Joe Hockey is in the paper today saying that this “beggars belief”. And no, he’s not expressing solidarity with Fearnley, or with the other thousands upon thousands of PWD who are maltreated by airlines. He’s accusing Fearnley of making it up.
    Jetstar story sounds ridiculous: Hockey

    Asked about Fearnley’s treatment, Mr Hockey said it beggared belief that such a thing could happen.
    “It sounds so absurd as to be unbelievable and hopefully that would not be the case,” he told reporters in Canberra.

    Really? Of all the abuse of PWD that goes on everywhere, always, this is the one thing that stands out as being so extreme, so ridiculous, that the person must be lying about it? Seriously? Hockey is just wrong on so many levels, here.

  11. Yes, Mr Hockey, that’s why hundreds of people have come forward and said “He’s making it up, I was on that flight and he was wheeled through the airport”. Oh wait, they haven’t. Hopefully now some people who saw Mr Fearnley crawling will come forward and show Mr Hockey up for the idiot he is. Must make him feel uncomfortable that something like this could actually happen, but we can’t have that so voila it never did. All safe and warm now in your denial Mr Hockey?

  12. Did you see the saga of Don’s wheelchair at http://trouble.dreamwidth.org ? They had similar problems with an airline in Canada.
    .-= Cesy´s last blog ..Posts about AO3 Open Beta, for reference =-.

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