Qantas slammed over broken wheelchair by disabled woman Zoe Simmons

When I jumped aboard my Qantas flight last Thursday afternoon, I was hoping I’d be an exception to the norm.

I’m a wheelchair user, you see — and air travel is notoriously difficult and discriminatory towards disabled people. It only takes a quick Google search to find dozens and dozens of stories where wheelchair users all over the globe catch a flight, only to have their precious mobility aids damaged, destroyed, or lost.

But still, I was hopeful. I’d taken a flight two days earlier, also with Qantas, and couldn’t believe my luck: my chair was fine!

I’d hoped I’d also have a positive experience on the flight from Sydney to Canberra two days later.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case.

When I arrived at Canberra Airport, I found the left brake of my wheelchair had been significantly bent to the side, with many of the screws loose. It might not sound like a big deal, but this damage pretty much renders my wheelchair unusable.

Yes, I can still wheel myself on flat surfaces — but my damaged brake means I can’t steer, or go down slopes or hills by myself.

And worse: when I initially reached out to Qantas for help, they told me they wouldn’t repair my wheelchair or reimburse me for damages.

“Thank you for taking the time to contact us about your wheelchair,” their customer care team wrote in an email, after I lodged my damaged property report.

“Airlines do not accept liability for minor damage to the brakes, wheels and handles of your wheelchair. Therefore, I am unable to offer you any financial settlement in this matter.”

I was shocked. How could they break my wheelchair, and then do nothing about it? And how could they consider my brakes — something that I need to use the wheelchair — minor? Would they consider an aeroplane’s broken brakes as minor damage?

They didn’t even apologise.

For disabled people, wheelchairs are our legs. And although I’m an ambulatory wheelchair user and can walk, it can at times be really detrimental to my wellbeing.

I live with a nerve disorder called fibromyalgia, which causes extreme pain, fatigue, brain fog, as well as pins and needles that regularly make my limbs go numb. I also have adenomyosis, which is another condition that causes extreme pain, particularly in the abdominal and pelvic area. Both of these conditions mean walking is often extremely painful, and I typically can’t walk for more than a few minutes without significantly worsening my pain. I also obviously can’t walk when I can’t feel my legs due to the pins and needles, which typically happens a few times a day.

So, I use mobility aids. They help me exist in the world and do things, without increasing my pain.

Overdoing it can cause a pain or fatigue flare, where I literally can’t think or move due to the pain.

It’s literally worse than broken bones.

I am so angry that this is how wheelchair users are treated by airlines, over and over. And it’s not just Qantas: it’s a systemic issue, because the system is so very broken.

But we often don’t hear about it: because we disabled folk are constantly advocating for ourselves, every single day, and it’s exhausting. And not everyone has the capacity to fight.

I emailed Qantas back and told them how disappointed I was — that a broken brake is not minor, and that this wasn’t acceptable. Again, they told me pretty much the same thing: that airlines “don’t accept liability for minor damage to baggage” including “scratches, scuffs, dents, cuts or damage that arises from normal wear and tear”.

Normal wear and tear?!

The amount of force required to bend a metal object doesn’t sound like normal wear and tear to me.

Fuelled by disabled rage, I started posting about it.

Funny enough, now my post has received thousands of views, likes and shares, Qantas are singing a very different tune.

A member from their advocacy team called me and offered to fix the chair or reimburse me, for up to $200. They claimed there had been an internal error, and my case should have been escalated to their customer advocacy team.

When I reached out to the Qantas media team, a spokesperson said: “We appreciate this has been a very frustrating experience for Ms Simmons and we sincerely

apologise. We have contacted her directly and have offered to pay for the required repairs to her wheelchair.”

Don’t get me wrong: I am grateful. And I appreciate that they are now helping me.

But this issue is so much bigger than me. I wonder: would this resolution have occurred, had I not made a fuss about it?

Having had multiple emails with the customer care team prior to this resolution where I got the same answer, I am dubious.

Part of me almost doesn’t want to accept the offer — because there are many people battling airlines around the world who aren’t getting justice. This is an enormous issue, and it literally kills disabled people, like disability activist Engarcia Figueroa, who died from body sores associated with the loss of her $30,000 wheelchair that was destroyed on a United Airlines flight in America.

And I have plenty of friends who’ve had their own issues with airlines as wheelchair users, including actor and writer Jamila Main who was stranded overseas without their wheelchair for five days. Or model and disability advocate Akii Ngo, who received a concussion after an airline didn’t use proper safety procedures following a flight.

I shouldn’t have to hope to be an exception to the norm. The norm should be that disabled people are looked after, treated well, and able to get the same resolution I’ve been able to get here.

The system is so broken — and airlines need to do better.

Zoe Simmons is a disabled journalist, copywriter, advocate and speaker who writes to make a difference. You can find out more about Zoe’s work on her website, or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Read related topics:QantasSydney

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *