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Air New Zealand creates obstacle to travelers with disabiities

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    Air New Zealand creates obstacle to travelers with disabiities

    From TV New Zealand:

    Reporter: Eleisha McNeill
    Air New Zealand's latest catch-phrase is "being there is everything" - which is fine if you can get there. But a recent policy change has made flying harder for the disabled community.
    Donna-Rose McKay has severe rheumatoid arthritis and has been in a wheelchair most of her life. She flies all over the country with her job, but now Air New Zealand has changed their wheelchair policy for people who can't self-lift out of their own wheelchairs and into their plane seat.

    Air New Zealand's staff used to be allowed to assist people on and off the plane seats, but now wheelchair users have to have a support person with them to lift them out of their wheelchair, into an aisle chair (which fits down plane aisles), and onto their plane seat. Someone has to meet them at their destination to lift them out of their plane seat, into the aisle chair and then out of the aisle chair into their wheelchair. If you're travelling from Dunedin to Auckland, for example, you usually have to change planes - which means arranging support people in three different places to do the lifting Air New Zealand staff used to do.

    Donna's colleague Richard Thomson is chairman of the Otago District Health Board. Air New Zealand told him they made the change because of health and safety legislation. Richard says if he were to tell patients in his hospital they needed to bring a support person with them to do the lifting, he'd be quickly fired. He says the hospital operates under the same health and safety legislation as Air New Zealand, and he believes it means they have to ensure they effectively train their staff to do the job that they're required to do.
    He points out that if this is the way Air New Zealand views the policy, maybe passengers should have to put their bags on the plane because the baggage handlers could be injured.
    Disability Minister Ruth Dyson has also got into the debate. She says Air New Zealand's putting barriers in the way of disabled people at the very time when barriers are being broken down.

    The ultimate irony - Air New Zealand's one of the major sponsors of the New Zealand Paralympics Team.

    Air New Zealand wouldn't appear on camera, but they tell us they consulted with disability groups over this policy change. Fair Go has spoken to a number of the groups Air New Zealand "consulted" with, and they say it wasn't a consultation process - there was one meeting and then they were pretty much told that was the way it was going to be.

    Air New Zealand wouldn't tell us how many of their staff have been injured lifting wheelchair users in and out of their seats, but they say their overall workplace injury rates are higher than "acceptable industry standards". They say they don't train their staff to provide "specialist lifting assistance".

    The same health and safety policy applies to baggage handlers. Air New Zealand says bags over 25kg are tagged as heavy, and any over 32 kgs have to be repacked to make them lighter. Their staff aren't allowed to lift anything they believe may cause them an injury.
    Qantas policy is quite different to Air New Zealand's. Their ground based staff help wheelchair users onto the plane, and the cabin crew then help them into their seats. Their staff are specially trained to lift wheelchair users. Interesting that Qantas say none of their staff have been injured lifting wheelchair users in and out of their seats.
    If you want to write to Air New Zealand with your views on their wheelchair policy, send your letter to:

    Customer Relations
    Air New Zealand Limited
    Private Bag 92007
    Auckland 1
    New Zealand.

    This is too bad, as we have flown them before and they provided great service (and bumped us up to first class). I guess we will cross them off our list of carriers to use in the future. I would encourage everyone else to inundate them with letters and e-mail about this. You can contact Customer Service throught their website:

    I don't think they will be able to keep this policy in place for flights to the USA though, as the Access to the Air regulations require that they provide this service at US airports. At many airports the service is provided (by contract) by the airport itself.

    The SCI-Nurses are advanced practice nurses specializing in SCI/D care. They are available to answer questions, provide education, and make suggestions which you should always discuss with your physician/primary health care provider before implementing. Medical diagnosis is not provided, nor do the SCI-Nurses provide nursing or medical care through their responses on the CareCure forums.

    we don't belong - humans evolved to walk - I do feel guilty when people have to risk injuring themselves lifting me into a seat


      This is the response I got from my e-mail to ANZ:

      Thank you for your enquiry about our Lifting Policy and how it will affect
      our customers.

      Firstly, it is important to point out that refinements to passenger handling procedures, is one aspect of a multi-faceted approach the company has taken to ensure employees across the whole organisation are not unnecessarily
      exposed to hazards in the work place - in this instance the risk of injury to our staff due to heavy lifting. Under the Health & Safety in Employment Act 1992 we have a legal responsibility to employees in this regard.

      Our lifting policy applies to disabled customers who are unable to self-lift. This does not include all wheelchair users. We presented the draft lifting policy for review and feedback to a cross section of representatives from New Zealand's disability organisations, including the Ripple Trust, the Disabled Persons Assembly, the Hearing Association, New Zealand Foundation for the Blind and the Burwood Spinal Unit. In addition, Air New Zealand consulted with an independent OSH medical advisor to ensure
      our health and safety obligations to our employees were also being met.

      In respect of our legal obligations, our legal team contacted OSH who advised us that the OSH regulations relating to lifting are covered in the ACC New Zealand Patient Handling Guidelines. These guidelines state we need
      to recognise lifting is unsafe and a view is taken within the guidelines that any load over 16kg represents an increasing risk of harm. It is also recognised within the context of the guidelines that there is no lifting technique or training that can overcome this risk. However, lifting devices can assist in this function. Unfortunately, there are no such lifting devices that can operate in the confines of an aircraft cabin environment at

      Having received feedback from a cross section of disabled representatives we then took the opportunity to canvas other airlines to understand how they are managing this situation. As you can appreciate airlines are at different phases of development. However, airlines such as British Airways have a comparable policy to Air New Zealand, requiring an escort to accompany a disabled customer where they can not self-lift. In contrast, we
      understand Qantas is in the elementary stages of determining an appropriate policy given their obligation to the disabled communities and employees.

      We appreciate there may still be some confusion within the disabled community in respect of the degree of assistance our staff can offer to
      non-ambulant customers.

      For clarity, Air New Zealand staff have been advised they cannot lift customers to the transfer position. However, they can provide the following assistance to non-ambulant customers:

      * Assist customers to move their legs when transferring position if required
      * Holding the aisle chairs (a narrow wheelchairs used on aircraft) whilst customers transfer position from/to their wheelchair or aircraft seat
      * Propel customers in aisle chairs to/from wheelchair/aircraft seat/aircraft toilet

      Since the introduction of the policy we received a suggestion from the Ripple Trust, which proposed support persons are arranged by the customer to assist them at the time of boarding and disembarkation to lift to the
      transfer position. This would eliminate the expense of the support person having to travel the complete journey with the customer.

      This is a great suggestion for our domestic service and subsequently, we have worked with Aviation Security to seek their permission to offer this service on all our domestic services, which they have approved.

      Unfortunately, as Customs processing exists for our International flights we are unable to consider this service as currently support persons are not allowed access 'airside' areas of the airport where the aircraft gates are
      located. In any event, given the longer duration of international travel and the obvious need for ongoing support with personal cares that are beyond the ability of crew to provide (eg: toileting), customers with a high level of physical dependency do travel with support people on international flights.

      I would like to reassure you of Air New Zealand's ongoing commitment to continue to review our lifting policy for disabled customers in light of customer feedback and to work with representatives from the disabled
      community to identify alternative solutions that reduce the financial impact on them whilst still ensuring our OSH obligations to our own staff are not compromised.

      Frequently asked questions:

      1) What prompted Air New Zealand's policy change?

      Air New Zealand has been reviewing a variety of policies across the organisation to ensure that it is meeting Health and Safety in Employment Act requirements.

      2) Did you consult with disability groups? If so, who and when?

      This is covered above.

      3) What training does Air New Zealand provide staff for lifting wheelchair users who can not self-lift?

      While our crew are trained to manage the safety and security requirements of customers, including those with special needs, and a high
      standard of in-flight service, they are not trained to provide specialist lifting assistance, such as the manual lifting of dependent customers in and out of an aircraft seat. Training or no training, this awkward and sometimes extremely difficult process, exposes our staff to the risk of injury - and this is the situation we are seeking to avoid.

      4) What if a mobility-impaired passenger needs to go to the toilet in flight? Will Air New Zealand cabin crew lift them into and out of their

      Cabin crew may assist a person to the toilet.

      As previously stated, Air New Zealand staff have been advised that they should not lift customers but they do continue to offer assistance as required. (Refer earlier points above).

      7) What is the position for helping mobility-impaired passengers in an emergency?

      Our flights are staffed with particular crew/passenger ratios so that in the unlikely event of an emergency there are enough crew to supervise and direct passengers as required in an aircraft evacuation. Clearly, if a passenger
      requires the support of two people to transfer position this would pose additional challenges in an emergency situation. For this reason, it is standard practice for many international airlines that escorts are required for customers with a mobility impairment so severe that they are unable to assist in their own evacuation of the aircraft during an emergency.

      8) Does the same policy apply to baggage handlers?

      Any bags weighing in it at over 25kgs are tagged as "heavy". If a bag weighs over 32kgs, the customer is asked to remove items to reduce its weight. Inherently, in the airline industry some items of baggage are of a shape and size that make them difficult to lift. Therefore, baggage-handling staff are instructed not to lift any item they believe may cause an injury.

      9) Why hasn't the Air New Zealand website been updated to include the policy

      The website has been updated.
      <A HREF="" TARGET=_blank>

      10) Will Air New Zealand be reviewing this policy change?

      This is covered in the commentary before answers to your questions.

      Note: This is not a withdrawal of service - Air New Zealand is not refusing carriage and staff will be available to provide assistance to the nominated support person. However, it is important that our staff do not place
      themselves at risk of injury.

      11) Why does Air New Zealand require wheel chair users who need to be lifted to their seats to travel with an escort on international flights and not domestic.

      Because of the longer flight time and obvious need for ongoing support with personal cares that are beyond the ability of crew to provide - eg: toileting.

      12) Do you provide discounts for people escorting mobility-impaired passengers on international flights?


      Note: Often the primary caregiver/ main support person is a family member/friend rather than a paid attendant.

      13) How do you explain the differences in policy between Qantas and Air New Zealand?

      Air New Zealand cannot comment on Qantas' policies. Air New Zealand (as an
      employer) is subject to NZ legislation - the Health & Safety in Employment

      I realise this is a lot of information, but hope it will answer any questions you may have about our revised policy. You may also like to view the ACC Patient Handling Guidelines on the internet. We look forward to welcoming you on board your flights soon.

      Yours sincerely

      Craig Fennell
      Customer Relations
      The SCI-Nurses are advanced practice nurses specializing in SCI/D care. They are available to answer questions, provide education, and make suggestions which you should always discuss with your physician/primary health care provider before implementing. Medical diagnosis is not provided, nor do the SCI-Nurses provide nursing or medical care through their responses on the CareCure forums.


        this seems ridiculous to me . firstly are they saying that emergencies do not happen on domestic flights , only international ones ? secondly they say about an escort on international flights . Air New Zealand's core business is probably New Zealand to Australia and return . the flight time for this trip is between 3 to 4 hours . almost all SCIs could undertake a trip of this duration by themselves . there are longer domestic flights than this in Australia , as there probably are in the US too . i note with interest the reference to Qantas reviewing its policy and will try to find out what is happening in regard to this issue .
        thank you ,

        every day i wake up is a good one .
        Every day I wake up is a good one .


          Hmmm Airline hits rough weather. Airline gets a bad lightening strike.. Winds whip up as landing time comes. Everyone seatbelted in, babies held, heads down. Smash, crash, minimal to moderate injuries on landing to several passengers. Fire begins in a wing area and slides are deployed. Three people die. Why? They were healthy and ambulatory when they got onboard the aircraft so? Oh, knocked out during rough weather and landing due to flying baggage, purses, shoes, etc. and they weighed more than 16 kilograms. All staff from ANZ safe on the ground while 3 18 year old girls burn to death. Anorexia now makes sense.

          Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, "I will try again tomorrow."
          Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, "I will try again tomorrow."

          Disclaimer: Answers, suggestions, and/or comments do not constitute medical advice expressed or implied and are based solely on my experiences as a SCI patient. Please consult your attending physician for medical advise and treatment. In the event of a medical emergency please call 911.