Media Release by The Hon Bill Shorten MP

Support for Virgin Blue’s decision to make flying more accessible for people with disability

I welcome a decision made today by Virgin Blue to make it easier for people with disability to fly without a carer.The decision will allow people with impaired mobility to travel on Virgin Blue unaccompanied, provided they are able to understand and respond to briefings about emergency procedures and do not require personal assistance during the flight.

The changes will give passengers with disabilities more freedom to make their own choices about how they travel, and will make travel on Virgin Blue more accessible, particularly for the elderly and people with disabilities.

This is a small victory for the rights of people with disability to make their own decisions about what risks they take when travelling and I would urge other airlines who still have similar policies to follow Virgin’s example.

However it does not resolve all the issues faced by people with disability who wish to exercise their right to travel by air.

Despite improvements in recent years, air travel is still an area where Australians with disabilities, particularly those with limited mobility, are treated as 2nd-class citizens.

In many cases they still face extra barriers and expenses in getting flights with some airlines.

The situation is particularly difficult for those who need to travel with medical equipment.

The case earlier this year of a man in a wheelchair who was not allowed to board a Jetstar Asia return flight from Bangkok to Darwin, despite having travelled on a flight with the wheelchair to Bangkok, is an example of the kind of difficulties that still exist.

In February the Rudd Government convened an Aviation Access Working Group, which brings together airlines, airports, government agencies and people with disability to find solutions to the obstacles facing travellers with disability.

I believe this group will help improve the situation for people with disabilities, but I also believe that action by individual airlines, such as Virgin Blue’s decision today will play an important part in reducing the inequities that exist.