Posted by: euzoia | November 25, 2009

I made a choice

Exhausted Paralympian Kurt Fearnley ‘needed to pick battle’ | Travel News | News.com.au

PARALYMPIAN Kurt Fearnley, who crawled the Kokoda Track and ended up doing the same through an airport terminal – and to a bathroom – after Jetstar staff refused to allow him to use his own wheelchair, is optimistic about an apology he has received from the airline.

Fearnley, 28, was told the airline’s policy was to take some wheelchairs from disabled people to check in as baggage and offered him a less-mobile wheelchair. He did not want to be pushed around the airport.

“I said there is not a chance that I am going to sit there and be pushed through an airport,” he said.

“An able-bodied equivalent, a normal person’s equivalent would be having your legs tied together, your pants pulled down and be carried or pushed through an airport.”

“I made a choice and that was to make my own way to the gate,” Fearnley said. “I jumped on to my brother’s shoulder then I crawled.”

Fearnley talked about the ordeal in a speech at the 2009 National Disability Awards at Parliament House last night, during his duties as an ambassador and emcee for the event.

He has since received an apology from Jetstar and says an airline representative has told him the company is working on an alternative boarding procedure for disabled passengers.

“They are busy working out an alternative procedure,” he said.

“As long as that’s going ahead, I’m more than happy.”

But he said he wouldn’t be afraid of speaking out again if he sees airlines making the same mistake.

“I wouldn’t hesitate to take this step again,” he said.

“I need to pick my battles here. I’m exhausted. Kokoda has taken a very heavy toll. But I just want to see this one through.”

Fearnley said took issue with the airline’s wheelchair policy, not the staff.

“The staff have always been great with me, but with the policy about taking my wheelchair away – taking every person with a disability their wheelchair away and not giving them a right to choose.”

Parliamentary Secretary for Disability Services Bill Shorten said he had spoken to Qantas, the parent company of Jetstar, to find out what happened.

“I certainly don’t want some gate clerk singled out but I do know Kurt – Kurt is not a whinger,” Mr Shorten told Channel Nine.

“Something hasn’t gone right here and what’s occurred here is someone with Kurt’s degree of self confidence to say this isn’t right.”

Fearnley crawled the Kokoda Track just a week after winning his fourth consecutive New York wheelchair marathon.

Jetstar says it accommodates up to 450 wheelchair-bound passengers each week without incident.


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