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The rollercoaster adventures of parenting three kids, dealing with disability and mental health - and discussing disability discrimination and how to tackle it.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Email to CEO of Virgin Australia

Mr. John Borghetti
CEO Virgin Australia

Dear John

In September 2014, our family went on a much-needed holiday to Fiji. Our oldest son was very sick, and we had had a very difficult year, so my father in law shouted us a holiday – travel and accommodation all booked via Virgin Australia Holidays and Airlines.

It took some time to sort out all practicalities – after all we were travelling with two kids who are wheelchair users – but your staff were friendly and patient, and all got sorted out satisfactory. Until two hours into our flight from Sydney to Nadi, when our oldest son (then 13) needed the toilet.

We were shocked to find that a 4-hour flight with two wheelchair users on board had no aisle chair for me to take him to the toilet. 

If you are interested in the details of our experience, you can read all about it on my blog (www.rollercoasterparenting.blogspot.com.au/2014/10/virgin-australia.html). In a nutshell, this is how, in desperation, I dragged my 50kg sick son to the toilet:

The same occurred on our way home to Sydney. I contacted your customer service team and nothing happened. Only after I wrote about my experience on my blog and it was picked up and re-tweeted by Stella Young did I suddenly get a response, a long telephone call from Matthew Dixon, your Guest Experience Manager. 

I explained to Matthew that I expect all flights to have a foldable aisle chair on board – but the very least on a flight that has wheelchair-using passengers on board. Other companies – such as Qantas – provide this essential service. Matthew assured me that he was working on it, and would get back to me. I offered to do whatever I can to help. He said I would have “24/7 access to him” and promised to get back to me by the 18th of November.

I am still waiting to receive a satisfactory response. I have received two almost identically worded template email (13th December 2014 and 22nd of January 2015) stating “Thank you for your patience. My colleagues and I continue to review this matter and will be in contact in due course”.

I’m sorry, but that’s just not good enough.

I want to know what is actually happening. I want to know WHY you do not have an aisle chair on all flights. Matthew mentioned something about “international safety regulations” but surely they can’t be that complicated that Qantas can comply with them and Virgin Australia cannot? I fail to find anything on the CASA, which outlines safety issues with regards to aisle chairs, in fact, quite the opposite. 

The website states, in its “Guide for Airline Operators: Ensure the aisle chair is available during every flight. (…) Not having the aisle chair available during a flight and refusing to help a passenger to the toilet is a denial of their rights”. (www.casa.gov.au/scripts/nc.dll?WCMS:STANDARS::pc=PC_90328)

If there are other safety regulations Matthew was thinking of, could someone please explain these safety regulations to me? How does Virgin Australia intend to address basic human rights of its disabled passengers with these regulations? 

Furthermore, I would like to know what your policies and procedures are when you get confronted by a customer issue like this. Matthew told me his team was meeting with various air safety specialists. Please can someone explain to me, which meetings are attended, by whom, and what is discussed/proposed there. 

John, my son is 13 years old and became seriously ill in 2014. Within the spate of two months he lost the ability to walk and toilet independently. Can you imagine how embarrassed and mortified he felt?

While I was certainly not happy with the initial issue, I have grown even more frustrated with the responses (or lack of) I have received from Virgin Australia. 

Please can you adequately respond to the initial situation my son found himself in on your planes in September 2014? Can you please inform me, in writing, what Virgin Australia intends to do with regards to on board aisle wheelchairs, and to the questions I have outlined above.

Sincerely Yours

Heike Fabig
[contact details]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

John Borghetti should be well aware of how Qantas handle these matters. He was a senior executive at Qantas before being overlooked for the top job. You may just have discovered why.

I hope he finds a back bone here and responds immediately and drags Matthew over the coals.

This is surely an easy fix. They simply should have the aisle chairs available for all flights carrying disabled passengers full stop.