Australian airlines see obese passengers as growing problem

In the United States, finding ways to accommodate oversized passengers may be the subject of uneven enforcement, but in Australia, it’s uncharted territory. In fact, this in-flight service problem is so ignored that the terminology isn’t even standard. According to Virgin Blue, being too grande for the seat is considered an impairment, while Tiger Airways isn’t sure if it’s a “comfort” issue or a “medical” issue. And last year, Jetstar demonstrated the genius of making one large passenger by two seats: both of them on the aisle. A spokesman for Jetstar, by the way, says, “Obesity is not a disability.”

Then, pray tell, what is it? Distinction from does not equate to definition of. And an inability to define imperils the formulation and enforcement of any policy … not that that’s a problem for Jetstar, whose spokesman added, “There’s no rules around what requirements we should do for somebody if they’re above a certain height or weight.” Virgin Blue also doesn’t have a policy for this.

Qantas has received complaints, too, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, but it punts responsibility back to the passengers: “”The only way for a customer to guarantee extra space is to purchase two economy tickets or fly business- or first-class.”

Needless to say, the majority of Australians support a formal system for addressing obese passengers, according to a study by companytravel.com.au. In fact, 70 percent of survey respondents weighed in favorably believed that “obese or largely overweight people should have to purchase two economy-class seat tickets when travelling by plane.” Only two years ago, 53 percent felt this way.

Clearly, this is a growing problem for Australian airlines. The county’s Department of Health and Ageing puts 41 percent of men and 25 percent o women in the “obese” category. Twenty years ago, the rates were only half as large.

[photo by didbygraham via Flickr]

JetStar to pack planes with iPads

JetStar seems to know that in-flight entertainment is nothing to scream about right now. You watch canned programming from a small screen. Fun. For a low-cost carrier, you’d think that fixing this problem isn’t a priority, but it looks like the little guys are coming up with the best ideas. The airline is getting ready to test the iPad as in-flight entertainment. Access is expected to cost A$10 ($8.40).

Strangely, internet browsing on the iPad will be disabled, because of the airline‘s policy on the use of cell phones and computers while the plane’s in the air.

Look for it to happen later this month. If it works out, the program will be extended through JetStar to the entire network of its parent company, Qantas. The trial will last two weeks and will be limited to domestic flights of less than an hour.

People with guide dogs have been denied flights and a hamburger

Guide dogs are nothing new. Most commonly known for helping people who are blind navigate the world around them, they are gaining use in helping people with other types of disabilities. Also called service dogs, some are now being used by war veterans with post traumatic stress disorders. The more service dog use increases, the more likely they will be part of the traveler’s scene. Unfortunately, not everyone who works in the service industry knows the laws and rules that protect service dog owners. This has created a few snafus.

There is a current lawsuit against McDonald’s for a situation that started with the refusal of service. When Luis Carlos Montalván, a former U.S. army captain who was wounded in Iraq, came to a McDonald’s in Brooklyn with his service dog, he was told he could not bring the dog inside. Montalván complained to the company CEO which resulted in a sign installed at the restaurant indicating that service dogs are welcome.

The lawsuit came about after this incident because Montalván claims that when he returned to this McDonald’s after the sign was installed, he was denied service by a different manager. When Montalván later came back with a camera to take a picture of the sign that said he should be able to have service, two employees accosted him.

In another recent guide dog incident, a blind couple and their dog were denied boarding on a Jetstar plane in Australia even though the airline does allow people with service dogs to fly. [Jaunted]

In both of these cases, the problem arose because the people who worked for the organization weren’t aware of the rules of an organization or the law. I would bet they hadn’t come across someone with a service dog before either. As much as a service dog looks like a regular dog, it’s not. Guide dogs are not pets.

What are the laws anyway? In the U.S. the Department of Justice outlines them quite clearly. In essence, a person with a service dog cannot be denied service. Period–except from what I can tell from reading the guidelines, if the dog is barking during a movie or if it acts up somewhere. Since service dogs are taught not to bark or act up, such behavior would be unlikely.

If you do see a service dog, don’t pet it when its harness is on. That means it’s “working” with an important job to do.

Airline apologizes for male flight attendant harassing a 15-year-old

Who should see your information?Australian airline Jetstar has recently apologized to Sunshine Coast-to-Melbourne passenger Elizabeth, who got a little more than she asked for on her flight.

Elizabeth’s 15-year-old daughter was harassed on Facebook by a male Jetstar flight attendant who met her on the plane, and reportedly got her name from her boarding pass. The 15-year-old, whose 16-year-old sister was also on the flight, received a Facebook friend request from the man, and when she ignored it, she started receiving messages. How’s this for creepy? From Switched.com:

“I’ve never wanted to add a 16-year-old before… um, well you seem quite mature maybe we might come friends. Here is my number….do you even have a phone? What area do you live in?

According to The Straits Times, Jetstar rep Simon Westaway has said: “We had a very senior manager contact the mother … We have expressed an apology to her.”

FoxNews.com reports that the mother Elizabeth “worried especially during the school holidays that he had made other such requests and impressionable young girls had accepted them.

My thought on this is: even if it were well-over-15-me, I’d have reported this guy for … I guess an invasion of my privacy? I don’t know. There’s so little shielding our information from customer service representatives of all types.

Do you think the law should protect our information, or perhaps just our children’s information, from the eyes of representatives like flight attendants? And then what do we become … numbers? How on Earth do we fix a conundrum like this?

Jetstar misses bedtime, fined

Australian low-cost carrier Jetstar has been fined nearly AU$150,000 (US$112,000) for the “wanton and deliberate” breach of Sydney Airport‘s curfew. From 11pm to 6am, takeoffs and landings are prohibited – except when permission is granted. So, imagine the anguish caused when Jetstar flight JQ37’s wheels went up at 11:28pm!

It gets worse.

The flight had been delayed for seven hours, keeping 70 passengers on the ground who had planned to be elsewhere long after the plane wound up taking off. Jetstar asked for an exception to the curfew … and was refused. Though rules were broken, the effect was softened by the fact that the pilot took off over the water to avoid disturbing area residents.

So, for once, an airline effectively announced a grand “Screw you!” to the rules to the passengers’ benefit. Hey, the airline may have its flaws – such as requiring overweight passengers to buy two aisle seats (figure that one out …) – but with this incident, it shows that it does care about its customers.

Could Jetstar have waited for airport officials to come around? Well, this event occurred on December 3, 2007, and those officials are just getting around to levying the fine now.

Do the math.