Australian Paralympian blocked from boarding flight with wheelchair

Paralympian and disability advocate Karni Liddell has called for Australian airlines to improve their treatment of people with disability after she was told she couldn’t bring her wheelchair on a Jetstar flight.

Liddell had been booked onto a morning flight from Brisbane to Proserpine in the Whitsundays, where she was due to attend a domestic violence workshop as a speaker.

But at the airport, she was told her wheelchair, which contains a lithium battery, was not permitted with her on board.

Paralympian and disability advocate Karni Liddell said she fears flying after several incidents with airlines and staff. (Nine)

“As soon as this happened I knew I wasn’t going to fly,” she said.

“After an hour she (the crew member) said ‘ma’am you can fly but you can’t bring your wheelchair’.

“I said ‘it’d be like me telling you to fly and just take your legs off’ and she said ‘stop being rude to me’.”

Liddell said despite having a dangerous goods certificate issued by Qantas and Jetstar, the paralympic swimmer and speaker was told she needed to give five days’ notice and fill in relevant documentation to transport the wheelchair on the flight.

In a statement, a Jetstar spokesperson said the company had personally reached out and apologised to Liddell, issuing her a refund and travel voucher.

“Unfortunately her booking was made through a travel vendor and did not include the requirement to travel with a 25-kilogram lithium-battery-powered wheelchair,” the company said.

“Carrying a 25-kilogram lithium battery on our aircraft requires special clearance in advance of the flight’s departure.”

Jetstar said Liddell had been issued a refund and flight voucher as apology for the incident. (Nine)

Liddell said incident was one of many over a decade of flying and she was often pulled off flights or refused permission to board.

“My friends have heard a hundred stories about me and airlines,” Liddell said.

“I’m very used to this happening to me so I was already nervous about flying. I have a lot of anxiety around flying.”

Another factor is the fear airline staff will damage her wheelchair.

“Every single friend of mine could tell you a story about their wheelchair being broken,” Liddell said.

“I just want to be able to arrive with my son on a holiday and not have my wheelchair broken.”

Liddell said she wants airlines to treat passengers in wheelchairs like people. (Nine)

Liddell called for all airlines to improve their treatment of people travelling with wheelchairs and for better training of staff in assisting people with disability.

“I want them to treat us as people and passengers and customers,” she said.

“I have never been treated like a customer.”

Do you know more? Contact reporter Marina Trajkovich at marina.trajkovich@nine.com.au

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