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Airlines' Policies for Carrying Wheelchair Users - Sheila King vs. Jetstar (Australia)

02/06/2012 | 2 comments

Photo of Sheila KingPhoto: Sheila King

In 2008 Sheila King, a wheelchair user living in Australia, was denied boarding on a Jetstar domestic flight due to the airline's "two wheelchairs only" policy. She took the airline to court claiming discrimination. In this Forum item Sheila explains the course of events and the court's decision which found in favour of the airline.

Sheila faces legal costs and is requesting financial help to cover the bill.

View Sheila King's profile on LinkedIn

Please read on...

ENAT members can login and make a comment, below.


9th May 2012. Email from Sheila King to Ivor Ambrose, Managing Director, ENAT

I will try to clarify the matter for you.  In 2008 I was asked to attend a conference in Adelaide and 6 weeks prior to the conference I made the necessary air flight bookings including the fact I was traveling with my mobility aid, i.e. scooter without any problems.

However on my return from the conference I presented my pre-booked and paid for ticket at check in and was told that I could not take my booked flight to Sydney as I was advised that JetStar had already fulfilled their two wheelchair policy. They offered me an alternative flight which I could not accept as JetStar only had one flight a day to Hervey Bay and the alternative flight would have meant me staying and paying for a night's accommodation in Sydney.

I therefore initiated a case of discrimination against the budget airline JetStar in 2008.

Eventually the case ended up in the Federal Court Of Australia late last year [2011].  I was represented pro Bono by 3 barristers and 1 QC.   The federal government donated $30,000 for my pro Bono team.

In his decision the Judge agreed I had been discriminated against, but said JetStar would suffer unjustified hardship if they were made to change their two wheelchair policy. This policy originally meant that they would only take two mobility aids on any one flight. However, over time they changed this policy to be an 'assistance' policy. Which now has evolved into a policy that, even if they take a person who does not use or require a mobility aid, but, say, they ask for wheelchair assistance from check-in via the departure gate to the plane's door, JetStar is saying this type of assistance is part of their two wheelchair policy.  To make a long story short this means that JetStar may not have any mobility aids booked into the flight I want to take, but do not allow me to book into that flight because they say they have fulfilled their two wheelchair policy by using their staff's time taking these folk in a wheelchair to the plane.

So when I fronted up with my ticket and scooter, they refused to take me, they agreed they had seats vacant, and agreed that because I had a mobility aid I was refused as seat on the plane

I still do not comprehend why I had to pay JetStar $20,000 when the Judge agreed that the airline had discriminated against me.

Now to the terms of the appeal.  My expert witness had a background of setting up budget airlines all over the world. I had to pay him $8,000 for him to formulate a report in order to debunk JetStar's reason for only allowing two wheelchairs on any one flight was because stowing more than two mobility aids increases their turn-around time.

I only had 2 witnesses lined up, one was the CEO of the physical disability council and the other person was the person I spoke about above.  The judge refused to allow my QC to call the CEO, saying  she was not an expert.   He then advised my legal team that calling my aviation expert would be a waste of time".

Last week there was a "directions" hearing at which the airline advised the court that they estimated it would cost them between $100,000 and $180,000 to defend the appeal and wanted to  put a cap on  my share of their costs should I not be successful.

The judge refused their request and put the cap  as $10,000 saying he felt the matter of refusing  people with disabilities to fly when they required to was a matter of public interest.

My legal team is completely pro Bono.   The amounts of the $20,000 which I have already had to take out a loan for, and the further $10,000 I will have to find should I lose, all go to JetStar.
[See Sheila King's request for financial donations, below].

The decision has been published and the word around the traps is that the legal fraternity in Australia think it is one of the worse decisions passed down in the last ten years, and although nothing is sure about the justice system, they all appear to think the appeal will be won.  I can only hope so!

Regards.

Sheila.

Read news article by ABC News, 13 January 2012: "Disabled Woman Loses Case Against Jetstar"


Donations to support Sheila King

DLA Piper is providing pro bono legal support to Mrs Sheila King in legal proceedings against Jetstar Airways Pty Limited in the Federal Court of Australia

A number of people have contacted DLA Piper wishing to make a donation towards the Mrs King’s legal costs.

The Australian Centre for Disability Law (ACDL) (formerly the NSW Disability Discrimination Legal Centre Inc.) has kindly agreed to accept donations on Mrs King’s behalf.  ACDL’s Gift Deductible Recipient’s (DGR) status enables donations to be tax deductible. Donations received will be receipted to the following effect – ‘Donation to Mrs King's legal costs.

If you wish to make a donation towards Mrs King’s legal costs, there are a number of ways this can be done. You should follow these instructions carefully to ensure that donations are recognised specifically for Mrs King’s legal costs.

Cheque/money order       Post to ACDL, PO Box 989 Strawberry Hills NSW 2012

 Please attach completed slip below to get your tax deductible donation receipt. [Applies only for Australian citizens].

Cash or EFT         Go to any Westpac Bank branch or online and deposit your donation into BSB 032-006 Account 461672 with reference ‘S.King Appeal – your name’ (e.g. S.King Appeal – John Smith); and post completed slip to ACDL, PO Box 989 Strawberry NSW 2012 or fax to (02) 9211 5518 or email details to pdavies@disabilitylaw.org.au

Please complete slip to receive donation receipt for tax deduction purposes:

Name: …………………………………………………………………………………………

Postal: …………………………………………………………………………………………

Or email: ………………………………………………………………………………………

Amount donated: $...............          

Date of branch/EFT deposit (if applicable): …../.…/….

NOTE FROM SHEILA KING:    Because of the necessity of avoiding having to pay interest on the $20,000 awarded against me, from the date of the decision I and my husband have had to find the $20,000 fine.  At a recent hearing regarding the appeal procedure, JetStar asked the judge for a cap of $100,000 - $180,000 –for me to be responsible for should I have the misfortune to loose,  something which would have caused us to sell our house.  It was a relief that the Judge ignored this and placed a $10,000 cap for me to pay should my appeal fail.   Still showing how expensive it is to get justice.


 

 

2 comment(s) posted

Posted by Ambrose Ivor on 2012/06/02 - 14:28:43

(This is the answer I sent to Sheila King).

This is scandalous!

"JetStar may not have any mobility aids booked into the flight I want to take, but do not allow me to book into that flight because they say they have fulfilled their two wheelchair policy by using their staff's time taking these folk in a wheelchair to the plane" - surely this is hogwash, m'lud!

If it were in Europe you would probably have been covered by the regulations which are imposed on the AIRPORT to get you to the gate and on board the plane. (As long as you notify the airline 48 hours in advance of your flight).

And, in Europe, if you do not get justice in, say a UK or French court, you could go to the European Court of Justice. (It is good we have the European Union as a watchdog and guardian of human rights). I cannot see how your case can rest, considering the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities and all.... but I suppose that was not signed back in 2008.

Anyway, to me, this is a travesty of justice.

Posted by Ambrose Ivor on 2012/06/02 - 15:02:07

Sheila writes:
By the way when I was doing research for my legal team I found that the only other airline I came across with a two wheelchair policy was Ryanair! Regards, Sheila

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