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

Sunday, February 10, 2013


Over the last three years a number of papers have been published that contribute to understanding one of the most basic links in the travel “trip chain" (World Health Organization & World Bank, 2011) for people with disability - airline travel. Air travel is the lifeblood of contemporary tourism that has been democratised through the advent of low-cost travel (Doganis, 2005). Yet, media coverage of national and international air travel experiences highlight the adverse flight experiences of people with disabilities are ongoing and a global problem. Two recent examples from Europe (European Disability Forum, 2011) and New Zealand (The Dominion Post, 2011) highlights some of the issues that people with mobility and vision impairments. What these incidents highlight is critical service failure by airlines that is not ad hoc but characterised by systematic failure within their service blueprint (Shostack, 1993).

Over the coming week I will present the abstracts of articles that examine disability, air travel and the accessible tourism. The first provides an overview of the flight experiences of people with disabilities in Israel involving people with mobility and vision disabilities (Poria, Reichel, & Brandt, 2010). The second involves the physical infrastructure required to provide a seamless "trip chain" for people with disability in air travel in Taiwan (Chang & Chen, 2012). The third examines the resultant effect that disabling practices have on the embodiment of people with disability through phenomenology or essence of experience in Australia (Darcy, 2012). Lastly, a chapter from a book on accessible tourism examines the impact that low-cost airlines may have on the critical service elements of the air travel experience drawing examples across the Asia-Pacific (Darcy & Ravinder, 2012).

While these articles identified a number of serious issues that have resulted in lack of accessibility, physical injury, loss of dignity and discriminatory service attitude, air travel can be an enjoyable experience. On a recent trip to Italy I had nothing but an extraordinary level of service at both Milan and Rome International airports facilitated by a dedicated service support group provided across all airlines for people with disabilities. Photo 1 shows my service team who provided me from arriving at the check-in counter to being seated on the plane a continuous service experience. This service is provided no matter what airline I would have been travelling on. I liken the experience to being serviced by a Formula 1 pit crew, totally professional, courteous and the highest levels of service provision. Fantastico!

Photo 1: Author Simon Darcy with the ADR Assistance team on the light rail transferring to the boarding gate (© Fiona Darcy 2012 é)

What I subsequently learnt from my colleague Ivor Ambrose from the European Network For Accessible Tourism was that for all airports with over 100,000 pasengers per year, this was a requirement brought in by EU REGULATION (EC) No 1107/2006  which came into force in 2007. As Ivor states “Gradually the implementation of this Regulation is working and improving... although the way it is carried out varies from country to country, as you might expect, according to training practices etc. But the good thing is that all airlines are covered by it - for all incoming and outgoing flights in the European Union”.

Well done Europe!

The rest of the world has a lot to learn. On the same trip where I had an awesome experience travelling from Italy to Hong Kong and then to Australia, my experiences in Hong Kong and Australia have always been ad hoc depending upon the individuals on for the airlines that I am travelling with. I've had everything from first-class transfer experience right through to being dropped in the transfer process. These types of experiences and take the gloss off what should be a wonderful travel experience.

Buhalis, D., & Darcy, S. (Eds.). (2011). Accessible Tourism: Concepts and Issues. Bristol, UK: Channel View Publications.


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