An acclaimed writer has been told she won’t be able to board a Qantas flight with her disability support dog, as the organisation she works with doesn’t have the right accreditation.
- The psychiatric assistant organisation says Qantas has made an unfair call in its disability support dog policies
- The acclaimed author is left “distressed” after being told she would be unable to board with the support dog
- A Qantas spokesman says the airline is investigating the issue, but says the airline is “bound by federal legislation”
Fiona Wright, a widely published author and critic, was scheduled to fly to Alice Springs on Friday for the NT Writers’ Festival.
Her disability relates to mental health conditions including anxiety.
But despite spending the past seven weeks providing documentation to prove her support dog, named Virginia, was appropriately trained, qualified and required for her to manage her disability while flying, Ms Wright said she has been knocked back by the airline.
Ms Wright said she supplied evidence including the qualifications of the dog’s trainers, the educational syllabus the dog had gone through and the public access test that the dog had passed “with flying colours”, to no avail.
She said the application process has left her with nowhere else to turn.
“It’s hard for me to actually know why I wasn’t allowed on the flight because Qantas asked me to fill in a great deal of paperwork,” she said.
“The reasoning is very vague.
“They have just said that I didn’t prove the dog was an assistance dog but they haven’t let me know exactly what they require that would be proof.
“They also asked me to give quite specific information about my disability and what the dog has been trained to do, which I’m not 100 per cent certain is legal.”
Process has caused author distress
Ms Wright said the process had caused her significant distress.
“It’s been incredibly stressful and this is the case for a lot of people who live with disability, and especially psychiatric disability,” she said.
“Stress is a thing that exacerbates my condition so I’m not well today.
“The other thing is that there seems to be no process to appeal, at least no one has been answering my phone calls.”
The Sydney-based writer has been shortlisted for the 2016 Stella Prize and her poetry collection Knuckled won the Dame Mary Gilmore Award in 2012.
She has written extensively about her experiences with anorexia and her 2015 collection of essays, Small Acts of Disappearance, which described her experiences with the eating disorder over several years, received multiple awards and critical acclaim.
Qantas said dog didn’t meet standards
A Qantas spokesman said the airline understood that “this is disappointing for Ms Wright” and that they would be following up with the author.
“We’ve been working with her for several weeks to explain Qantas’ requirements, including the requirements we need to ensure that the dog is trained appropriately to travel inside the cabin,” the spokesman said.
“Qantas is bound by federal legislation including CASA regulations to ensure all service dogs travelling in the cabin meet the required standards, including training standards.
“Unfortunately in this case, on the information provided, Qantas could not be satisfied that mindDog training met the training standards required.
“Qantas has successfully worked with dozens of other training providers to ensure their standards met Qantas’ obligations under legislation and CASA regulations.”
Disability dog group brands Qantas ‘unfair’
Cath Phillips, the head of the mindDog organisation that trained Ms Wright’s dog, said the call to stop people from boarding with disability support was due to an unfair executive call by Qantas.
“Qantas won’t fly mindDogs although all of the other airlines do … Virgin, Jetstar, and so far all international airlines that have been asked carry our dogs with no problems,” Ms Phillips said.
“Because we have psychiatric assistance dogs that already belong to their handlers, we believe their training and development requires a different model, one which doesn’t naturally fit with existing bureaucracies.
“We absolutely stand behind our clients and their dogs.”
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