Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Paralympian protests by dragging himself through the airport, after Australian airline requires him to check his wheelchair

From AFP:

MELBOURNE — Australian budget airline Jetstar apologised on Nov. 24 after making a Paralympic champion check in his wheelchair before catching a flight, prompting him to drag himself through the airport.

Kurt Fearnley (pictured), who had just completed a gruelling 96 kilometre (60 mile) crawl using his hands along a Papua New Guinea jungle track, had complained bitterly about the weekend incident.

The equivalent for an able-bodied person "would be having your legs tied together, your pants pulled down and be carried or pushed through an airport", he said.

Fearnley, 28, hauled himself around Brisbane airport using his hands, including through a bathroom, and on to his flight in protest when Jetstar asked him to check in his personal wheelchair.

He spurned the airline's offer of its own wheelchair specially designed for planes, complaining that he would lose his mobility and have to be pushed around by airport staff.

Jetstar, the budget offshoot of national carrier Qantas, issued a statement apologising to the two-time Paralympic champion, saying any embarrassment and hurt was not intentional.

It said its policy was for passengers in wheelchairs to be transferred to the airline wheelchair, which is easier to manoeuvre inside the plane, at the boarding gate.

Fearnley, who won the marathon gold in the Beijing and Athens Paralympics, said the airline had told him it was working on an alternative boarding procedure for disabled passengers.

"As long as that's going ahead, I'm more than happy," he told Australian Associated Press.