Appalling service from Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Blue

I’ve written before about how my daughter, who is hearing impaired has a Lions Hearing Dog, which she needs to alert her to sounds around the home, and whilst she’s out.  He’s a very smart and well behaved dog who has the same status as Seeing-Eye Dogs, which means that he can travel on public transport with her, and that includes planes.  During the flight the dog is allowed to fly in the cabin with my daughter.

He has flown a few times before with Qantas, and each time the Qantas booking process and travelling arrangements have always been excellent, which is why I am partly saddened and also very angry about my treatment today from Qantas, their subsidiary Jetstar and their competitor Virgin Blue.

A member of my wife’s immediate family died this morning, so we have been trying to arrange to fly to Melbourne for her funeral.  Because my daughter was close to her aunt, she wished to attend also which meant, of course, that she would need to take her dog with her.

We know that because we are travelling with a dog, we have to make the bookings over the phone.  After checking the Qantas website for the best flights, I rang the Qantas booking line.  It was obviously a very busy day as I was on hold for over 15 minutes when the phone was answered by a reservations assistant named Julie.  I explained that I needed to make a booking, but, because of the accredited Lions Hearing Dog that was travelling with us, needed to make the booking by phone.  This must have been too much for Julie who, without a word or explanation placed me on hold, so I had to sit listening to the Qantas online spiel for a further 15 minutes, when the phone was answered by Paul.  He was quite helpful, until I gave him the flight details which were for Jetstar flights.  Now Jetstar is a subsidiary of Qantas, and I saw the flights on the Qantas website, not the Jetstar site, so assumed that I could book through Qantas.

Paul informed me that he couldn’t book me on a Jetstar flight and kindly transferred me to Jetstar, where I sat on hold for 30 minutes.  When the reservations assistant did answer I explained that I would like to make a booking and that we were travelling with a Lions Hearing Dog, and he cut me off.

Being quite angry by this stage, I phoned their competitor, Virgin Blue, and spoke to a very nice lady who booked my flights with them.  She did say that the Lions Hearing Dog was not on her list of accredited assistance dogs, but would check them out and phone me back to confirm my flights, which she did a short time later.  By this stage I was very happy with Virgin Blue, until the lady informed me that Lions Hearing Dogs were not on their list, so couldn’t fly in the cabin with our daughter.  So, I cancelled the flights.

I then decided that as we had successfully flown with the dog on Qantas before I would ring them and pay the extra charge for the Qantas seats.  After waiting on hold for ten minutes, I get Julie again!!  This time she didn’t even wait for me to finish my conversation, and just flung me back onto hold, probably to go back to the end of the queue.  After another 45 minutes of being on hold, I gave up, and just hung up.  My wife tried to phone Qantas, and after 30 minutes she gave up, and hung as, by this time she was in some distress after having not procured tickets that would allow her to attend the funeral of a much loved member of her family.

There are a couple of issues here.  Firstly the appalling behaviour of Julie and her Jetstar counterpart for trying to fob off a call that was obviously too hard for them (Paul was helpful but his hands were tied by too much red tape).  I’d suggest additional staff training for Julie and the Jetstar guy as I have been a loyal customer to Qantas, but the stupid actions of these two left a very bitter taste in my mouth. Secondly, if Qantas don’t want their passengers to purchase Jetstar tickets through them, they shouldn’t allow Jetstar bookings through their website.  That equates to absolutely poor communication with their customers.  Thirdly, Qantas need more staff, if you phone an airline to make a booking, to spend your money with them, you shouldn’t have to wait almost two hours and still not be able to make your purchase.  They would have lost me, if Virgin Blue hadn’t been so intractable.

Now to you, Virgin Blue!  What they are telling me is that my daughter’s disability is not as bad as someone else’s?  Lions Hearing Dogs have been around for many years and have, through the assistance of Lions Clubs, trained many hundreds of dogs for hearing impaired people.  It is not up to Virgin Blue to decide which dog is worthy enough to be carried by them.  A Lions Hearing Dog is well identified by wearing an orange collar and coat, which plainly tells onlookers that they are a dog which helps people with their disabilities, and that they are on duty.  The owners of Lions Hearing Dogs must also carry identification with them which associated them with their dog – these dogs are not pets, they work for a living, and they do a wonderful job to make their owners’ lives easier.  The lady that I dealt with at Virgin Blue was very good, but had an onerous task in giving me news she obviously had no pleasure in giving.

Just because some puffed up little bureaucrat at Virgin Blue is totally ignorant of what constitutes a legally and officially recognised assistance dog, has meant that, once again my daughter has to fight discrimination.  Although she’s an adult, she’s had to cope with these types of inconsiderate and boorish, uneducated decisions all of her life.  Usually, because she can’t hear properly many people think that she’s stupid.  No, Virgin Blue, she is not stupid, she doesn’t drag her dog around because she’s overly fond of her pet, and she needs her dog to make her life more liveable.

Shame on you for your reprehensible, uneducated policies.

6 comments to Appalling service from Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Blue

  • Lisa

    Hi, first of all I’m very sorry for your loss, and I’m sorry that the airlines are making this time even more stressful for your family.

    I have an assistance dog and we travel regularly. I was under the impression that Hearing Assistance Dogs are on a different list to other types of Assistance Dogs when it comes to flying. Virgin Blue classifies Hearing Assistance Dogs as “Guide Dogs” actually.

    This is from their website:
    “Guide Dogs are defined as a dog that is accompanying a Guest who is visually or hearing impaired
    Guide dogs must be trained and accredited by their applicable Australian Guide Dog Association under the banner of Guide Dogs Australia
    Guide dogs (including Guide dogs in training) are permitted in the cabins of all our aircraft when they are travelling with their owner and the owner is entirely dependent on the guide dog for mobility. There is no charge for guide dogs travelling with their owners on our flights
    The Guide Dog must have a medallion on their collar with their guide dog registration number”

    Classifying Hearing Assistance Dogs as Guide Dogs seems very silly, and obviously Hearing Assistance Dogs aren’t trained by a Guide Dog program. But as far as I’m aware, all of the airlines have to allow dogs trained by Lions as Hearing Assistance Dogs to fly.

    If I were you, I’d be phoning CASA to double check that Lions Hearing Dogs are approved to fly, and then ringing the Australian Human Rights Commission to report the discrimination and ask them for urgent assistance in booking a flight. Alternatively, you can point out this page http://www.virginblue.com.au/Personal/Flightinfo/BeforeYouFly/SpecialNeedsandAssistance/VisionorHearingimpairments/ to Virgin Blue staff.

    This shows that they don’t classify “Hearing Assistance Dogs” as “Assistance Dogs” (they classify them as “Guide Dogs” as the link above says.) http://www.virginblue.com.au/Personal/Flightinfo/BeforeYouFly/SpecialNeedsandAssistance/Travellingwithanassistancedog/index.htm

    CASA says this on their website
    “While the Australian Civil Aviation Regulations have generally accepted the carriage of dogs accompanying a blind or hearing impaired person, the carriage of other assistance animals requires specific approval from CASA. Taking into consideration the growing use of assistance dogs in the community, CASA has now allowed some airlines to accept, for carriage in the cabin of an aircraft, dogs, which have been accredited by specific charitable organisations who are full members of “Assistance Dogs International”, without recall to CASA.” http://www.casa.gov.au/scripts/nc.dll?WCMS:STANDARD::pc=PC_91462

    I hope this has helped. I’ve had a lot of problems with Tiger Airways. It’s ridiculous when airline staff don’t know their own policies.

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  • Lisa

    Hi I was wondering if you got this sorted out?
    I hope so!

  • Hi Lisa, It is being sorted out. I had a conversation with Virgin Blue, and they made an admission on radio, that they should have recognised a Lions Hearing Dog and allowed him to fly in the cabin. My conversation with them was brief because I was in a meeting when they phoned, but my daughter has decided not to attend the funeral, so my wife and I made bookings for us with another airline. You will be interested to know that, because I am a broadcaster, it was covered very well by Perth radio station 6PR, where I work, and the number of calls of support and some good calls of assistance from those who work in the area of human rights was enormous and very satisfying. Regards, Steve

  • Lisa

    Hi Steve,
    It’s great that it was sorted out, and I’m glad it was covered by media too. The staff need to know their airline’s policies, and if they don’t know, then they need more training by the airline. Thanks for the update.

  • John Ross

    Hi Grumpy,
    I’m sorry to hear about your hassles and the distress that you had to endure. Ive had the pleasure of meeting the dog you refer to. He is a gorgeous dog and would put the Julies, the Virgin Airlines, Qantases and Jetstars to shame with his gentle, caring, helpful and polite ways. Qantas and Virgin also need to wake up to their service standards. The delays you experienced are positively Banana Republic. Finally Qantas/Jetstar interaction is inconsistent and hypocritical. A friend of mine recently booked return airfares to Perth explicitly with Qantas. He was quite upset and angry when his return flight was with Jetstar. Apprantly the fine print says that Qantas has the right to do this. Qantas and Jetsar cannot have it both ways and at their whim, either they mutually co-operate as you were legitimately allowed to believe or they unambigously act independently.

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