It has been 13 years since Calum Sanderson was last able to summon the courage to fly out of Tasmania.
Calum Sanderson has documentation proving he needs an assistance dog
Jetstar would not let Sun fly as the dog was not trained at a recognized training organization
Federal MP Andrew Wilkie says the legislation around assistance dogs needs to be examined
This year, once again ready and just days before he was due to embark, airline rules threw his plans into disarray.
Mr Sanderson has “severe anxiety disorder” making it difficult for him to even go to the local shops alone.
So the decision to book a Jetstar flight to the Gold Coast in January to see a friend was not one taken lightly.
“It was me psyching myself up for months to take the bull by the horns, lining up my finances, being able to afford the ticket,” Mr Sanderson said.
Mr Sanderson experiences panic and agitation when not accompanied by his assistance dog Sun, so he sought reassurance from Jetstar that the dog could come before booking his flight.
In an online conversation with Jetstar live chat agent Cyril, Calum’s father Tim Sanderson — who is a psychologist and works with people who use assistance dogs — was told all that was needed initially for Sun to fly was a letter from a GP and an assistance dog ID card service.
“However, you will be needing to contact us back once you have booked a flight to request for a Jetstar Travel clearance for the service dog,” the chat agent said.
After sending through the requested documentation, including an ID card for Sun from not-for-profit training and accreditation organization mindDog, Calum received an email saying Sun did not meet the necessary criteria.
Jetstar said the dog “had not been trained at an approved training organization under the Guide, Hearing and Assistance Dog Act 2009 (Qld) or by an organization that is a member of Assistance Dogs International”.
Ultimately, Calum was told he could not take the dog, despite a GP letter informing Jetstar he was “dependent on his dog to be able to fly or take public transport”.
Tim Sanderson said he was shocked, and the decision had been “devastating” for his son.
“Jetstar have a responsibility to actually pay attention to what the [federal] Disability Discrimination Act 1992 asks of them, which is to treat a person with a disability with dignity and respect.
“Calum needs the dog. The dog is trained. He has trained the dog. Jetstar seems to impose their requirements on who has trained the dog. Well, that’s none of their business.
Tim Sanderson said he was also disappointed in Jetstar for asking for specific details about his son’s disability.
MP says Jetstar’s actions ‘possibly contrary to the law’
Independent federal MP Andrew Wilkie has written to Qantas, Jetstar’s parent company, on behalf of Mr Sanderson.
“This is dreadful behavior by Jetstar,” Mr Wilkie said.
“Calum asked the question in good faith: Could he fly? And he provided all the information requested and he was told he was good to fly, so I find Jetstar’s subsequent revocation was mean-spirited and deeply hurtful.
“It’s possibly contrary to the law, although that’s something that would need to be explored.
“They [Jetstar] hold themselves up as a good corporate citizen. This is not the behavior of a good corporate citizen.”
Mr Wilkie said legislation around assistance dogs needed investigating.
“Issues are popping up far too regularly in this space and it is something that the federal and Tasmanian state governments need to have a look at to ensure public safety is protected but equally so are the rights of individuals,” Mr Wilkie said.
A Jetstar spokesperson said the company apologized “if there was any misunderstanding with our live chat agent”.
“We have been in contact with Mr Sanderson and given Sun is unable to travel, our team has offered him a full refund.”