An Australian passenger was humiliated on Wednesday after Qantas Airlines refused to take his collapsible wheelchair on board his flight to Bali.
The staff at check-in permitted Shane Hryhorec to bring his specially-designed wheelchair into the cabin since it could be folded in half and stored in the overhead bin.
So far, his trip was off to a good start.
After making it through security for his flight aboard a Boeing 737 however, a crew member told the Melbourne businessman that his wheelchair had to be stored in the aircraft hold, as "Qantas only allows wheelchairs in the cabin on Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 flights," according to Newsweek.
I’ve been told my wheelchair will not meet me at the plane door! I will have to collect my wheelchair when I collec… https://t.co/IbwdGsqtpM— Shane M Hryhorec (@Shane M Hryhorec)1536822137.0
A debate ensued and Hryhorec and his traveling companion were removed from the plane and brought back to the terminal where the Australian Federal police were waiting for them.
But there were no charges or arrests made as the authorities dismissed the incident as inconsequential.
Hryhorec said he never felt more disabled after the frustrating incident.
@qantas just kicked me off my flight. They wouldn’t allow my wheelchair in the overhead locker like (@EtihadAirways… https://t.co/V8gBtz7XUb— Shane M Hryhorec (@Shane M Hryhorec)1536750783.0
"I just really wonder when things like this will stop happening to us," Hryhorec told news.com.au.
"I got in the car and cried. I was so upset. Sadly, this is not uncommon for people with disabilities.
"When you go to Bali you have no idea what chair they're going to give you."
"My wheelchair is designed to fit in the overhead and that's why I take it traveling."
Hryhorec runs Push Mobility, a disability equipment company that replaces broken wheelchair parts, often as a result of improper handling by airport staff when chairs are stored as luggage or other cargo.
"I can't afford having my chair to be damaged. I run a company that replaces wheelchairs that have been damaged in flights. I understand what happens when people fly with their chair in the hold."
"I was going from Bali to Europe for work and if something happened to my chair, that would affect my travel for work."
Having his own specially designed chair in sight allowed Hryhorec to ensure it did not get damaged. But it also allowed him to get into and out of his airline seat on his own and exit the plan without help.
A generic wheelchair does not always allow a disabled person to get into or out of the seat on their own because of arms that do not collapse. Disabled people can be seriously injured when they are lifted or moved by untrained people.
One user appreciated Hryhorec's tweet in raising awareness for the disabled.
@HryhorecM @Qantas Perhaps if in training, HR should have everyone, including managers spend a day in a wheelchair… https://t.co/XAQoaUmcZX— jimmy malecki (@jimmy malecki)1536970858.0
Qantas Airlines chalked the incident up as a miscommunication. They issued a statement to news.com.au but failed to address calling the police or their lack of a disabled friendly flight.
"Our crew are trained to ensure customers who require specific assistance travel comfortably, while maintaining the safety of other passengers and crew."
"We apologise that due to a miscommunication, one of our customers boarded our Boeing 737 aircraft intending to store their wheelchair in the overhead compartment when they are not able to be stored in the cabin."
The Qantas policy on wheelchairs for 737 and other smaller aircraft is because they lack a vertical storage space that a standard wheelchair will fit into. But Hryhorec's wheelchair is not a standard wheelchair and easily stowed in the overhead compartment.
In other words, Qantas demanded Hryhorec's wheelchair be removed because it would not fit in 737 cabin storage, so they removed the wheelchair from the 737 cabin storage and kicked Hryhorec off his flight for disagreeing.
"I'm happy to check in my carry-on luggage so it means my wheelchair is the only thing I'm putting in the overhead. And it doesn't take up any more room than the luggage of any other paying customer."
@HryhorecM @DMacKinnonAU @Qantas This should not be happening in this day and age. I hope @qantas picks up their act.— Maurizio Vespa (@Maurizio Vespa)1536982661.0
@HryhorecM @HannahPopsy @Qantas Grrrr, so not acceptable! Sort it out Qantas. I stand by friends, relatives and twe… https://t.co/Eo9vlrCR5p— Ever Dashing Dancer (@Ever Dashing Dancer)1537002033.0
One person made the excellent point that wheelchairs are not an accessory, like the briefcases or luggage that got put in overhead storage; "they are the feet and legs of a person with a disability."
@HryhorecM @kylie_vosa @Qantas Airlines need to stop looking at wheelchairs as accessories,they are the feet and le… https://t.co/3UCCBYLquM— Geraldine Murphy (@Geraldine Murphy)1537049640.0
Others commiserated with Hryhorec by sharing their own horror stories.
@HryhorecM @Qantas To be fair @Qantas aren’t the only airline that get this wrong. We had a really difficult experi… https://t.co/MY3tyO880H— Matt Strapps (@Matt Strapps)1536976047.0
@HryhorecM @DrMel_T @Qantas This happened to my mother as well. We got to baggage in time to grab her wheelchair ri… https://t.co/LFCQ5PwJWC— Foul-Mouthed Engineer (@Foul-Mouthed Engineer)1536982213.0
@HryhorecM @AB_Owl @Qantas with a fractured spine an ambulance was supposed to be waiting for me on the tarmac...in… https://t.co/Xu1BcXRYXH— Eliza (@Eliza)1536825567.0
Hryhorec booked a different flight to Bali but was told his wheelchair would still have to be checked into the plane's hold despite it fitting inside the overhead bin.
"I'm at a point where I could even cancel the holiday. I honestly don't even want to go now."
"Things need to change because people with disabilities have been putting up with this for far, far too long."
He eventually did make it to Bali.
Despite his concerns for having to check in his wheelchair, the airline decided not to make him have to pick it up at baggage claim on his newer flight.
"During the flight the Cabin Services Manager [CSM] came up to me and said 'We've arranged for your chair to be brought to the door when you land'."
"A great relief after all I'd been through in the past 24 hours. Crew were amazing during the flight."
@HryhorecM @FatherBob @Qantas Being 'diff abled' myself - totally get where you are coming from, lodge some feedback n don't stop :-)— 😇 Gorgeous Greta (@😇 Gorgeous Greta)1536870214.0
At the Bali airport, Hryhorec saw the Qantas CSM from the day before. Wanting to let bygones be bygones, Hryhorec reached out to him but was given the cold shoulder.
It turned out the Qantas cabin services manager was still disgruntled over their previous interaction.
"Once we disembarked, I ran into the CSM from yesterday. I held my hand out and said 'Hey how are ya?'."
"In front of the entire flight crew who was waiting with him to board, he refused to shake my hand."
"I said 'not going to shake my hand?' and he said 'Anything for free press'."
Made it to Bali. @qantas Cabin Service Manager (CSM) went above & beyond offering great guest experience. They even… https://t.co/i22TUrTMof— Shane M Hryhorec (@Shane M Hryhorec)1536850590.0
Qantas has not yet issued a statement on their CSM.