Qantas Reviews Wheelchair Policy

Sydney, 01 December 2005

Qantas said today it had reviewed its policy for the carriage of electric wheelchairs, following a three month trial.

Qantas Head of Customer Service, Lesley Grant, said the change, which would see restrictions for particular wheelchair models on three types of the airline's aircraft from 1 February 2006, was part of a broader, year-long review into services for customers with disabilities.

"We have been working on ways to improve how we look after passengers with disabilities in close collaboration with advocacy groups and will continue to investigate ways of improving the service we offer customers with specific needs," Ms Grant said.

She said the current review process would see important changes, including:

* a policy change to allow customers to travel to the departure gate and from the arrival gate at their destination in the comfort of their own chair, without the need to transfer to a Qantas wheelchair;
* a new lifting system called the Eagle Lift, designed at the request of Qantas and being progressively introduced throughout the domestic network, to transfer customers from their wheelchair to their aircraft seat in greater comfort; and
* a special passenger assistance information leaflet for customers to use throughout their journey to explain the transfer services and options available to them.

Ms Grant said Qantas had had excellent feedback on its initiatives at a forum held this week with advocacy groups including the Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Association of Australia and the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, health professionals and individual customers to explain the initiatives and new procedures.

"One of the most important things we discussed was the need to load wheelchairs safely onto our aircraft, to minimise any damage to these valuable chairs as well as ensure that there is minimal risk of injury to our staff during the process."

Ms Grant said there was no issue with any wheelchair model being loaded onto Boeing 747s and 767s, Airbus A330s, Airbus A320s, or Bombardier Dash-8s.

"However, some electric wheelchairs do not meet the height restrictions of three of our narrow-bodied aircraft types - the Qantas Boeing 737, the Jetstar and QantasLink Boeing 717 and the QantasLink British Aerospace 146 - and where they cannot be disassembled to meet the requirements of these aircraft, they cannot be accommodated."

She said the cargo doors on these aircraft were simply not large enough to safely accommodate mobility devices with a height greater than 84cm, 70cm and 99cm respectively.

"Manufacturers of electric wheelchairs, which can weigh more than 150kg, recommend that they be loaded onto an aircraft in an upright position.

"Loading them on their side risks damaging the chairs and - despite extensive trials - we have not been able to find any satisfactory method of safely accommodating wheelchairs outside the prescribed height parameters.

"A number of our staff have suffered serious injuries trying to work around these restrictions, including one of our people who has become permanently disabled," Ms Grant said.

"As well as being committed to offering customers with disabilities the best possible service, we have a legal responsibility to ensure the health and safety of our staff in the workplace."

Ms Grant said that certain electric wheelchairs did meet aircraft height restrictions, and modifications were possible to other chairs to enable safe loading onto all aircraft.

"We will be working with wheelchair manufacturers to ensure they are aware of the limitations and expect that over time, as people move to new wheelchair models or modify existing ones, the system will work well for everyone's benefit.

"In the meantime, Qantas will be contacting affected customers with bookings to discuss options," she said.

Issued by Qantas Corporate Communication (3363)