The Disability Travel Challenge: Cairns to Brisbane with Qantas

The Disability Travel Challenge: Cairns to Brisbane with Qantas

Wheelchair-bound holidaymaker John Roberts is putting facilities for disabled travellers to the test on a month-long trip – and you can follow his progress exclusively in Travel Weekly.

John’s latest report is on a flight from Cairns to Brisbane with Qantas.

Oh dear. After complaints to Qantas over our flights to Sydney and to Cairns we were assured that the accessibility issues I have so far experienced would be resolved.

However, at Cairns airport we were met by an abrupt supervisor who told me he had changed our seats as to new ones which he considered more suitable. We tried to explain what we had already organised with the airline, but he kept shouting me down, and I became increasingly frustrated.

Why do people change your arrangements – despite comments on the booking – because they think they know better?

I asked the supervisor to move us back to our original seats, and a helpful young lady at the check-in desk told me she would sort it out. She asked us to go to the lounge and wait for the manager. The duty manager appeared and was fully briefed – he apologised and explained that once again human error had caused the problems.

He was genuinely sorry and embarrassed, and came bearing upgrades to business class. We had originally been told that the business cabin could not accommodate wheelchairs, but he clarified that wheelchair passengers are welcome in any cabin.

During the conversation he advised us of a short delay due to bad weather, and told us that our assistance would collect us from the lounge. This happened and boarding was no longer an issue.

Our seats were fine and we had a great crew. They apologised for being unable to get my wheelchair in the cabin, but told me it would be stowed in the hold carefully and would be waiting at the aircraft door on arrival in Brisbane.

Unfortunately Brisbane brought more problems. My wheelchair arrived at the aircraft as agreed but it was dripping wet. It had been left on the tarmac in the cyclonic rain at Cairns. It isn’t clear whether the Qantas crew or the Cairns ground handlers were responsible, but the crew were clearly embarrassed and quickly produced a blanket for me to sit on. I still got wet, however.

Worse still, one member of assistance staff was sent to look after two wheelchairs. How safe is it for one person to push two wheelchairs? Comments are most welcome!

Off we went to collect our luggage, only to find they too were dripping wet from the rain at Cairns. Our plan to use the train into Brisbane – a direct and quick route from the airport to the city – was not possible as the waterlogged luggage was just too heavy. We had to pay $50 for a taxi van.

Qantas have promised to put right the damaged luggage and cover costs, but we lost almost 36 hours to getting laundry sorted and chasing Qantas for help and advice.

We tried to contact our insurer American Express Travel Insurance, but could not get through to the 0845 number they give as an overseas emergency line. I sent three emails to try to resolve this, and they kept sending me the same number – not what you want when you are knee-deep in wet clothes and have little time before your next flight.

We have two more flights with Qantas – Sydney to Hong Kong and Hong Kong to Heathrow. Keep following the trip and we will let you know if things improve.

John Roberts is a pseudonym. The writer wishes to remain anonymous while he travels.


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