Toilet sign and departures information post at the airport.

Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year for air travel. But for people with disability the journey does not always go smoothly.

Paralympian Karni Liddell and journalist Zoe Simmons were among more than 45 people with disability who shared their experience of air travel in workshops held by the Royal Commission.

The purpose of the engagement was to identify recommendations for change in accessibility to the air travel industry for people with disability.

Earlier in the year Liddell had been refused boarding a Qantas flight because her wheelchair had a lithium battery. In June she told The Sydney Morning Herald, “it’s 2022 and I can’t count the number of flights I have been kicked off or rejected from because of being in a chair having batteries”.

Even though she had a dangerous goods certificate issued by the airline, she was told she had not provided enough notice or paperwork.

According to Zoe Simmons, “Our stories just get swept under the rug. We get told we are the problem, but people don’t realise how widespread the problem is.

“If everyone else experienced this every time they caught a flight, they would never fly again,” she said. “There is a plethora of horrible things that can happen to you. It is systemic and needs to change.”

Some of the key insights from the workshop included:

  • People with disability being seen as an afterthought amid flight cancellations
  • Experiences of discrimination against people with disability who use assistance dogs. This includes participants being refused travel on flights while accompanied by assistance dogs
  • Lack of accessible flight options and carriers in regional and remote locations 
  • Most aircraft limiting the number of wheelchairs to two per cabin 
  • Not all aircraft able to carry on-board wheelchairs
  • Extended and unreasonable wait times and hold times when checking into flights to ensure accessibility requirements are met 
  • Denial of and lack of access to necessary information and support pre-flight
  • Lack of access to timely and appropriate responses by airlines. Participants reported being ‘silenced’ and or ‘dismissed’.