A family wedding in late March meant my mum and I needed to travel from Melbourne to Sydney. This was no small feat as Mum uses a walking frame. I decided to ‘road-test’ Qantas’s service for older, less-able travellers and found it a mixed experience.
Here’s the lowdown on what you can do to ensure the comfort of loved ones who need mobility assistance while flying domestically. First I contacted the airline’s media department and asked how those travelling with a walking frame could ensure their needs would be met. The reply I received – basically just ‘rock up on the day and tell them at check-in’ – was the worst advice and totally out of sync with what we were actually required to do.
When we arrived at check-in, we were told the mobility frame was a third piece of luggage on top of two suitcases and would attract an extra baggage fee. We were also informed there were no wheelchairs for in-airport transport as we hadn’t pre-booked one. Seriously? I showed the desk staff my email from media telling us to just announce our needs on the day. By then mum was exhausted and I was totally pissed off. But this was when the experience improved dramatically.
Sensing our genuine frustration, the magnificent Qantas check-in attendant produced a wheelchair and a staff member to take Mum through security while I managed our carry-on bags. Plus Mum’s frame was checked in free-of-charge, as it should have been. The staff in the Qantas Club found a comfortable space for us and requested further ground crew to help take Mum to the gate when it was time for takeoff.
The only further hiccup was that Mum’s wheelchair was too wide to go on the plane. So the flight was delayed while they searched the airport for a narrower wheelchair to deliver Mum to her seat.
This probably made her feel like a nuisance, but to be fair to the ground crew and flight attendants, they couldn’t have been kinder. Finally we took off and Mum got to attend her first grandchild’s very special wedding.
For our return journey, I was sure to call Qantas and request a wheelchair well in advance. This worked well, but it is worth noting that the disabled toilets in all three Qantas lounges (Qantas Club, Business and Chairman’s) double up as showers. Somewhat unbelievably, all three were fully occupied as showers when we needed access on the way back from Sydney Airport. With an ageing population, this is something worth consideration by all airlines hoping to serve older travellers.
So how to summarise our experience? A low grade to Qantas for not offering clear information upfront for those with special needs – say 4/10. But a high score for the airport staff and flight attendants who generously cared about Mum’s welfare –our experience in their hands was definitely worth a 9/10.
I contacted Qantas’s media department on our return to try to unearth the best advice for YourLifeChoices members who are less mobile. Below are links to their advice – I hope your travels are smoother than ours were!
Anyone who requires specific needs (support and assistance at the airport and in the air):
Providing your information on special assistance:
This article is part one of a two-part ‘Travelling with Mum’ road-test of mobility experiences. Look out for Kaye’s article on her mum’s stay at Sydney’s Crowne Plaza Coogee Beach Hotel.