‘Tired of the fight’: Paralympian not allowed on flight with wheelchair

Australian Paralympian Karni Liddell has urged airlines to improve the way they treat travellers with a disability after she was blocked from boarding a flight with her wheelchair to attend a work event in the Whitsundays.

Liddell was due to board a Jetstar flight from Brisbane to Proserpine to attend a domestic violence workshop as a speaker on Wednesday when she was told by ground staff she couldn’t take her wheelchair, which contains a lithium battery.

“I can fly, but I can’t take my wheelchair,” Liddell said in an online video sharing her experience. “You can’t make this stuff up.”

“I did say to the lady that’d be like me saying: ‘You can go but just take your legs off’, and she told me to stop being rude.”

Liddell said she had a dangerous goods certificate issued by both Qantas and Jetstar but was told she needed to give five days’ notice and fill in additional documents to transport her wheelchair on the flight.

The Paralympic swimmer, who claims to have been prevented from boarding Qantas and Jetstar flights on multiple occasions because of her mobility aid, said she was tired of travellers with disabilities not being treated like people.

“I’m acting like I’m fine. I’m not fine. 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,” an emotional Liddell said.

“People can travel with their surfboards and prams and bikes, golf bags, but I can’t fly with my wheelchair.

“Now I’m just hanging out in my lounge room all dressed up nowhere to go and I’m just tired of the fight. I don’t know what to do anymore, I don’t know how much I can fight to just do the basics like fly, deliver a speech and make money.”

Liddell said she had been inundated with messages from other travellers with similar experiences after sharing her ordeal on social media. She encouraged her supporters to complain to Qantas and Jetstar.

In a statement, Jetstar said carrying a large lithium battery on a plane required special clearance ahead of the flight’s departure.

“I can’t count the number of flights I have been kicked off or rejected from because of being in a chair having batteries.”

The airline said Lidell’s booking had been made through a travel vendor and did not include the requirement to travel with a 25kg lithium battery-powered wheelchair.

“We will reach out to our travel partners to ensure all requirements for customers travelling with a battery-powered wheelchair are clearly communicated on each booking to prevent situations like this happening again the future,” the statement read.

Jetstar said it had spoken to Liddell to apologise for the incident and had issued her with a full refund and a travel voucher.

Liddell’s experience in Queensland comes just weeks after former disability discrimination commissioner Graeme Innes, who is blind, was told he and his guide dog could not pass through a body scanner at Adelaide Airport together.

Innes, who is lodging a complaint with the Human Rights Commission over the incident, told The Age last month he had heard dozens of stories from people with disabilities who had terrible airport and airline experiences.

“The airline industry has been thumbing their nose at the Disability Discrimination Act for 20 years – when I was commissioner and since then,” Innes said.

“This has just tipped me over the edge, and I am committed to really try to do something about it, not just for me, but for people with disabilities around the country.”

In 2009 Jetstar apologised to Paralympian Kurt Fearnley after he criticised the airline for making him check his personal wheelchair in with his luggage.

Fearnley said at the time he chose to crawl through Brisbane Airport rather than use an unsuitable chair offered by the airline.

In 2018, Australian of the Year Dylan Alcott also complained he had been left on a plane without his wheelchair being brought to the gate and urged Australian airlines “to sort their shit out”.

“It is inhumane and unfair taking people’s independence away and not caring about it,” he tweeted at the time.

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