Perth deafblind woman refused boarding Jetstar flight says airline discriminated against her



May 25, 2019 18:05:11

As airline horror stories go, Vanessa Vlajkovic has a more devastating one than most: being refused boarding a flight because she was travelling alone.

Key points:

  • Deafblind woman booked Jetstar flight from Perth, telling airline she had special needs
  • As she tried to board Jetstar told her she could not fly alone
  • Jetstar said an administrative error meant only one of her disabilities had been recorded

The 21-year-old journalism student had booked a flight from Perth to Adelaide on Thursday evening for a short holiday.

It was meant to be her first unaccompanied flight as Ms Vlajkovic, who is deafblind, usually travels with a support person.

“I called [Jetstar] twice and had a discussion with some staff to make sure that they knew I had a disability, to make sure that they knew I had special needs,” Ms Vlajkovic told the ABC through an interpreter.

“What they said at the time was ‘Yeah, all good, that’s fine’.”

Ms Vlajkovic said she arrived at her boarding gate with a support person, who explained her situation to Jetstar staff.

“There was another person with a disability, who was physically disabled in a wheelchair, waiting to access the front of the plane,” she said.

“We waited and waited for about 20 minutes, and I had no idea what was happening. I knew that we should have been on the plane by that time.”

Ms Vlajkovic said another Jetstar crew member then approached her and began typing on her BrailleNote computer, which converts English text to Braille via a keyboard.

“She said ‘Can you read the safety information?’, I said ‘No, I’m blind. I’ve told you all of this before’.”

“She said ‘Can you hear anything?’, I said no, so she tried to give me an iPad, which was an enlarged version of the safety card. I said, again, ‘I can’t see’.”

Jetstar said it delayed the flight by 45 minutes to try to find a crew member to fly with Ms Vlajkovic.

“Then I heard that they’d closed the plane and the plane had taken off, and I wasn’t on it.”

“So I cried for 20 minutes, because I couldn’t believe what had happened. I wasn’t allowed on the plane, which was basic discrimination, just because I can’t read the safety instructions.”

A spokeswoman for Jetstar said Ms Vlajkovic had “done everything correctly”, but due to an administrative error “only one of her disabilities” was recorded in the booking system.

Had the airline known Ms Vlajkovic was deafblind, she would have been informed that a carer must travel with her for safety reasons, the spokeswoman added, due to on-boarding and off-boarding risks.

‘Policies need to change’

Jetstar arranged for a replacement flight with Qantas the following day, in which a crew member accompanied Ms Vlajkovic.

Ms Vlajkovic was born with optic atrophy, meaning her vision is limited to seeing shapes and shadows, except at very close range.

She was not born deaf, but progressively lost her hearing from the age of seven.

Ms Vlajkovic says she would have been fine travelling solo if the safety instructions had been written in Braille.

“I want an apology. I want [Jetstar] to say sorry, but I also want them to agree that what they did was wrong and to own it.”

The former WA Young Person of the Year says she was told there was no proof in her booking of her disability.

“The policies need to change,” Ms Vlajkovic said.

“I want awareness about the issue, because all people who have disabilities go through this.

“I want to break through the barriers, because this is really not good enough.”

In a statement, Jetstar said it sincerely apologised to Ms Vlajkovic and acknowledged “how frustrating” the situation had been.

The airline said it was reviewing Ms Vlajkovic’s case to examine whether all processes were followed.






First posted

May 25, 2019 16:57:06


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