All abilities trek to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko - Australia's highest peak

All abilities trek to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko - Australia's highest peak
All abilities trek to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko - Australia's highest peak - © Jennifer Johnson 2008

Saturday, October 27, 2012

(Dis)Embodied Air Travel Experiences: Disability, Discrimination and the Affect of a Discontinuous Air Travel Chain


Simon Darcy
University of Technology, Sydney, Australia
Address for correspondence: Simon Darcy, Associate Professor, UTS Business School, University of Technology, Sydney, P.O. Box 222 Lindfield NSW 2070, Australia. E-mail: simon.darcy@uts.edu.au

Abstract
This article presents an investigation of the embodied air travel experiences of people with disability. The study was informed by human rights frameworks, social approaches to disability and critical tourism. The research design included a review of newspaper articles, human rights complaint cases, open-ended responses to a survey on the tourism experiences of people with disabilities and semistructured in-depth interviews. The findings revealed that the air travel practices routinely contravened disability discrimination legislation and identified a series of socially constructed constraints across the air travel chain from the preplanning of trips through to disembarking after a flight. What emerged from these experiences was that the embodied individuals became (dis)embodied at each stage of the air travel chain. The inequitable, inaccessible, undignified and dependent practices resulted in heightened anxiety, increased helplessness and, in some cases, humiliation to which they were not subjected in their everyday lives.

Keywords: air travel; travel chain; disability; embodiment; human rights; citizenship; lived experience; social model

The genesis of this article came from ongoing media coverage over the last two decades of the air travel experiences of people with disability (PwD) — a global phenomenon not restricted to western or eastern practices or the developed or developing world. Two recent examples from Europe (European Disability Forum, 2011) and New Zealand (The Dominion Post, 2011) identified that the issue is not just a case of service failure but one of disability discrimination. Disability discrimination occurs when PwD are treated less fairly than people without a disability before the law. The newspaper articles highlight the multidimensional outcome for the individuals involved — discriminatory practices had the effect of constraining their citizenship. The media examples link the theoretical developments in the study of disability, tourism and the growing body of knowledge on accessible tourism. The issue falls within the United Nations Convention On the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPWD), which is underpinned by social approaches to disability (Kayess & French, 2008). The article takes up the challenge posed by disability studies academics (Shakespeare & Watson, 2001; Thomas, 2004) to incorporate a more complex understanding of embodiment than the current dichotomous social model understanding of impairment and disability (as discussed later). To this end, critical theory in tourism has also incorporated embodiment as core to its approach and it is argued that the social model of disability and critical tourism bodies of knowledge provide an opportunity to move beyond identifying constraints to seek transformative outcomes for tourists with disabilities.


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Epilogue - the Italian experience
Yet, the air travel situation does not need to be as problematic as shown in this research. Good quality customer service training with a dedicated team approach by airlines at individual airports is one strategy that can be adopted. This type of approach values travellers with disability by treating them in an equitable, dignified and independent way. I was the recipient of such a service experience at the Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino International Airport, Rome. As one should expect from a country with a history of valuing customer service and a Formula One racing car pedigree, this service for wheelchair users was first rate and like a well oiled pitstop crew. It was an incredibly empowering experience where the travel trip chain was continuous and with out critical incident. Photo 1 shows the customer service team escorting me to the boarding gate on an accessible light rail system.

Photo 1: The author Simon Darcy with the excellent customer service staff at Rome airport on a wheelchair accessible light rail system moving to the boarding gate (Photo with permission © 2012 Fiona Darcy)


When referencing the paper please quote
Darcy, S. (2012). (Dis)Embodied Air Travel Experiences: Disability, Discrimination and the Affect of a Discontinuous Air Travel Chain. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, 19(e8 August), 1-11.

References
Buhalis, D., & Darcy, S. (Eds.). (2011). Accessible Tourism: Concepts and Issues. Bristol, UK: Channel View Publications.
Kayess, R., & French, P. (2008). Out of Darkness into Light? Introducing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Human Rights Law Review, 8(1), 1-34.


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