‘Mean-spirited and hurtful’: Jetstar slammed after assistance dog barred from flight

Jetstar has been slammed for barring an assistance dog from one of its flights, an act one MP deemed “mean-spirited and hurtful”.

Jetstar has been slammed for barring an assistance dog from one of its flights, in an act that one Federal MP deemed “mean-spirited and hurtful”.

Tasmanian man Calum Sanderson hadn’t flown out of the state for 13 years, so when he decided to book a flight to the Gold Coast in January to see a friend, it was no small feat.

Mr Sanderson has “severe anxiety disorder” which makes it difficult for him to even go to the local shops alone. He experiences panic and agitation when not accompanied by his assistance dog Sun, he told ABC News.

“It was me psyching myself up for months to take the bull by the horns, lining up my finances, being able to afford the ticket,” he told the national broadcaster.

Mr Sanderson sought reassurance from Jetstar that Sun would be allowed to come with him before booking his flight. And in an online conversation with the airline’s live chat agent Cyril, his father Tim Sanderson was told all that was needed initially for the dog to fly was a letter from a GP and an assistance dog services ID card.

“However, you will be needing to contact us back once you have booked a flight to request for a Jetstar Travel clearance for the service dog,” the chat agent told Tim, who is a psychologist and works with people who use assistance dogs.

Mr Sanderson sent through the requested documentation – including an ID card for Sun from not-for-profit training and accreditation organization mindDog – but later received an email saying Sun did not meet the airline’s criteria.

Despite a GP letter informing Jetstar he was “dependent on his dog to be able to fly or take public transport”, Mr Sanderson was told he could not take Sun with him.

A spokesperson for the airline told news.com.au: “All assistance dogs are welcome on our flights provided they meet the necessary criteria in accordance with civil aviation laws, which is outlined on our website and at the time of booking.”

The advice of Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) states: “An approved organization must have trained, or is training, your assistance dog. You may need to provide proof of this training.”

It’s at the discretion of the specific airline to decide what assistance dog training organizations they accept.

But, CASA says they must “be accredited by an animal training organization prescribed by Section 9 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992” or “meet or exceed the minimum standards set by Assistance Dogs International in respect of organizations that are eligible to be full members or the Guide, Hearing and Assistance Dogs Act 2009 (Qld)”.

“In this instance, Sun did not meet these criteria as he had not been trained at an approved training organization under the Guide, Hearing and Assistance Dog Act 2009 (Qld), or by an organization that is a member of Assistance Dogs International,” the Jetstar spokesperson said.

Tim told ABC News the decision had been “devastating” for his son, and that the airline “seemed to accept that he needed an assistance dog, but were still prepared to deny him the right to actually travel with the dog”.

“Jetstar have a responsibility to actually pay attention to what the [federal] Disability Discrimination Act 1992 asks of them, which is to treat a person with a disability with dignity and respect,” he said.

“Calum needs the dog. The dog is trained. He has trained the dog. Jetstar seems to impose their requirements on who has trained the dog. Well, that’s none of their business.”

Independent Federal MP for Clark Andrew Wilkie told news.com.au he was “very disappointed with Jetstar’s handling of Calum’s legitimate need to take his assistance dog on board a flight from Tasmania to Queensland”.

“Calum always acted in good faith and provided the airline with all the documentation it requested, so to have his ticket revoked was mean-spirited and hurtful,” Mr Wilkie said.

“He hasn’t flown interstate for more than a decade, so he’s understandably devastated.

“There is also a question of whether the airline breached any anti-discrimination and consumer laws.

“The bottom line is that Jetstar failed to act like a good corporate citizen and to work with Calum to find a way to get him and his dog safely to their destination.”

Mr Wilkie added: “[This is] just the tip of the iceberg because it is not uncommon for people with assistance animals in Australia to be refused access to public transport, so clearly federal law reform is needed if this is to be remedied.”

Jetstar has been in contact with Mr Sanderson, and given Sun is not permitted to travel, the airline has offered him a full refund.

“We apologize if there was any misunderstanding with our live chat agent,” the spokesperson said.

Read related topics:Qantas

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