Qantas slammed broken wheelchair by disabled woman Zoe Simmons

When I hopped on my flight from Qantas last Thursday afternoon, I hoped I’d be the exception to the rule.

I use a wheelchair, you see – and air travel is very difficult and discriminates against people with disabilities. It only takes a quick Google search to find dozens and dozens of stories of wheelchair users around the world taking a flight, only to have their precious transportation destroyed, destroyed or lost.

But nevertheless, I was an optimist. I had taken a trip a couple of days ago, with Qantas too, and couldn’t believe my luck: a chair that was so good!

I was hoping to also have a positive experience on the flight from Sydney to Canberra two days later.

Unfortunately, this was not the case.

When I arrived at Canberra Airport, I found the left brake of my wheelchair curved significantly to the side, with several screws loose. It may not seem like a big deal, but this damage renders the wheelchair unusable.

Yes, I can still drive myself on flat surfaces – but my damaged brakes mean I can’t drive or go down slopes or hills on my own.

Worse yet: When I initially reached out to Qantas for help, they told me they wouldn’t fix the wheelchair or compensate me for the damages.

“Thank you for taking the time to contact us about your wheelchair,” the customer service team wrote in an email, after I submitted my damaged property report.

“The airlines are not liable for minor damage to the brakes, wheels and handles of your wheelchair. Therefore, I cannot offer you any financial settlement in this matter.”

I was shocked. How can they break a wheelchair, and then do nothing about it? And how can they consider my brakes – something I need to use a wheelchair – to be small? Would a broken plane’s brakes be considered minor damage?

They didn’t even apologize.

For the disabled, wheelchairs are our legs. And although I am a mobile user of wheelchairs and can walk, sometimes it can be really harmful to my health.

I live with a neurological disorder called fibromyalgia, which causes severe pain, fatigue, and brain fog, as well as pins and needles that regularly make my extremities numb. I also suffer from adenomyosis, another condition that causes severe pain, especially in the abdomen and pelvic area. Both conditions mean that walking is often very painful, and I usually cannot walk for more than a few minutes without significantly worsening the pain. It’s also clear that I can’t walk when I can’t feel my leg due to the pins and needles, which usually happens several times a day.

Therefore, I use mobility aids. They help me exist in the world and do things without adding to my pain.

Too much of it can cause pain or a flare of fatigue, as I can’t think or move because of the pain.

It’s literally worse than a broken bone.

I’m so pissed that this is how wheelchair users are treated by airlines, over and over again. And it’s not just Qantas: it’s a systemic problem, because the system is so broken.

But we often don’t hear about it: because we disabled people are constantly standing up for ourselves, every day, and it’s exhausting. Not everyone has the ability to fight.

I emailed Qantas and told them how disappointed I was – that broken brakes are not simple, and that this is not acceptable. Again, they tell me pretty much the same thing: airlines “do not accept responsibility for minor damage to baggage” including “scratches, cuts, scrapes, cuts or damage arising from normal wear and tear.”

Normal wear and tear?!

The amount of force required to bend a metal object does not seem to me like normal wear and tear.

Out of crippled rage, I started posting about him.

Funny enough, now my post has received thousands of views, likes and shares, Qantas sings a completely different tune.

A member of their advocacy team called me and offered to repair the chair or pay up to $200. They claimed there was an internal error, and my case should have been escalated to the Client Advocacy Team.

When I reached out to the Qantas media team, a company spokesperson said: “We appreciate that this has been a very disappointing experience for Mrs. Simmons and we sincerely

Apologize. We contacted her directly and offered to pay for the repairs required for her wheelchair.”

Don’t get me wrong: I’m grateful. I appreciate that they are helping me now.

But this issue is much bigger than me. I wonder: Would this decision have happened, had I not made a fuss about it?

Having received several emails with the customer service team prior to this decision where I received the same answer, I am suspicious.

Part of me almost doesn’t want to accept the offer – because there are so many people fighting airlines around the world who don’t get justice. This is a massive problem, and it literally kills people with disabilities, like disability activist Ingarcia Figueroa, who died of body sores linked to the loss of her $30,000 wheelchair that was destroyed on a United Airlines flight in America.

And I have a lot of friends who have had their own issues with airlines as wheelchair users, including actress and writer Jamila Maine who was stranded abroad without a wheelchair for five days. Or model and disability advocate Aki Ngo, who suffered a concussion after an airline did not use proper post-flight safety measures.

I should not wish to be an exception to the rule. The standard should be that people with disabilities are cared for and treated well and be able to get the same decision you were able to get here.

The system is very broken – and the airlines need to do a better job.

Zoe Simmons is a disabled journalist, copywriter, advocate and speaker who writes to make a difference. You can learn more about Zoe’s work on her website or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Originally published as a leaked email exposing a Qantas passenger’s nightmare

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