International Travel Blues - Susan's Story

I am visually impaired and recently travelled to Singapore with my intellectually disabled daughter via Australia on an Australian airline.

When booking our tickets I also booked disability assistance for all four flights. I was offered assistance in Auckland but declined as I knew the layout of the departures area. Unfortunately I was unaware that there had been upgrades and the airport had completely changed.

Arriving in Melbourne the only assistance offered was to “turn right”. When we did this the woman chased us and said to turn right after going left then follow the signs. When I said I could not see the signs she just ignored me. In the transit area we were left to find our way up an escalator to the boarding gates. I could not see the signs and had to ask for help. On arriving at Changi Airport we were given a level of assistance which was a young, uninterested woman texting and using her phone. Everyone else on the plane had long gone before we were checked through customs. The booked shuttle was not there and needing to check my phone into the airport system before I could contact them she asked for my password. After almost 24 hours awake I told her I could not remember it and she got very upset with me.

When checking in for our return flights I asked for disability assistance and was told it was not a service they offered. I insisted I had always had help at Changi but even a chat to the supervisor saw us refused assistance. Waved through to a self-service machine in customs I had to return and explain I could not see to use their machines so they reluctantly allowed us to go through a manned customs exit.

When boarding the plane the head steward noticed my cane and asked why I had not been boarded early. I explained I was refused help. He said this was wrong and must have complained and then reported this ahead. In Brisbane we were met but dropped at a door and told to “go through customs there”. Only on our return to Auckland did we receive proper assistance. Met at the door of the plane by two young men, we were both escorted through a special customs area for assisted passengers, taken to collect our bags, and out to the area where we were met by our shuttle driver. They even took time to go and find my guide dog who was waiting for me.

 

I hope an accessibility act will make customer service and disability training a priority so all airlines are aware that disabled passengers require assistance to allow them to negotiate large airports.

 

This is my access story, it is one of many. I'm sharing it because I want a law that puts accessibility at the heart of an inclusive Aotearoa New Zealand.

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