Jetstar's treatment of two high-profile disabled campaigners has been condemned as unacceptable by New Zealand's Disability Issues Minister Tariana Turia.
Tanya Black and Dan Buckingham – presenters of TVNZ disability show Attitude – had been due to fly from Auckland to Wellington yesterday morning but were not allowed on to their aircraft after they were told they each needed to fly with their own caregiver.
After an embarrassing standoff of 20 minutes or more, they ditched Jetstar and bought new tickets to Wellington on Air New Zealand.
Jetstar told The Dominion Post it would be apologising, and refunding their fares. It confirmed part of the airline's concern was about how they might get to the toilet on the hour-long flight.
Mrs Turia said the Government had a campaign to address issues such as this. "It is clearly not acceptable that three people had to fly with another airline because they were not treated with respect in this instance."
The pair, who had been flying to Wellington to discuss changing attitudes to people with disabilities with three government agencies, both have fulltime jobs, drive cars and regularly travel on planes – including Jetstar's – without issue.
Ms Black and Mr Buckingham, who had been travelling with an able-bodied colleague, said that when they went to board their plane yesterday morning they were told by cabin staff to wait at the door, where they ended up holding up other passengers for 20 minutes.
They were eventually told that the captain had a problem with them flying without a carer each.
Jetstar reportedly said it would let them fly if they found a fourth, able-bodied person to act as a carer – despite the fact that it would be another passenger chosen at random. A carer's job theoretically involves taking them to the toilet if needed.
The pair told The Dominion Post the airline eventually said it would let them fly only if they agreed not to go to the media, but they felt dehumanised, humiliated and frustrated, and decided to fly with Air New Zealand.
Jetstar spokeswoman Andrea Wait said the airline's policy stipulated that, if a passenger needed help boarding, they were required to bring along another person as a carer. Passengers needing special assistance were required to notify the airline before flying.
The low-cost airline had fewer staff on board than other carriers, so could not necessarily assist those with disabilities, she said.
April 2011: Wellington teacher Gemma Rasmussen flees aftershocks and radiation warnings in Japan then finds Jetstar has charged her twice and changed her return flights without notice. She spends 12 hours on the phone to the airline and receives "appalling" service and a $25 voucher – until The Dominion Post makes inquiries.
March 2011: Auckland mother Ashley Taipari is stranded after Jetstar refuses to let her fly with her twin toddlers because she does not have another adult to accompany them.
March 2011: Auckland woman Lee Stanish accuses Jetstar of lacking compassion after it tells her it will cost $50 a ticket if she wants to transfer existing booking to a family that lost someone in the Christchurch quake.
January 2011: INXS singer Jon Stevens is outraged after being ejected from a Jetstar flight to Brisbane, for a Queensland flood relief concert, after an altercation with staff about seating.
July 2010: Passengers complain after Jetstar cancels a flight from Wellington to Auckland when a cabin crew member falls ill. $50 vouchers are given to passengers.
The Dominion Post/stuff.co.nz