Outcome of disability complaint may change air travel forever
- Written by Roberto Castiglioni
Jenny Brown was unaware the complaint she filed against Virgin Australia name change policy could have a lasting impact on air travel.
“My son travels with a carer arranged by a nursing agency,” Jenny said. “We get to know their name two weeks before, so we have had to book at the last minute.” But expensive airfares are the only one available when you book few days before flights.
Jenny thought this was wrong, and lodged a complaint with the Anti-Discrimination Board of New south Wales, Australia. The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) represented her in the complaint.
Settling the case, Virgin Australia introduced significant changes to its policies. People required to travel with a carer can now book their flight by phone at internet discount rate up to 331 days before the flight . The name of the carer can then be changed or confirmed free of charge at any time up to 72 hours before the flight.
"We welcome the changes that Virgin Australia has made as they make air travel more affordable and accessible for people with disabilities," Camilla Pandolfini, the PIAC Solicitor in charge of the case said. "Travel is an essential service and this takes us one step closer to equality."
On first read, Virgin Australia’s settlement may appear borderline insignificant. However, the name change policy update is far reaching.
There are two key elements in this settlement: availability of web-based fares to customers with disabilities who book their flight by phone and the name change policy.
Recent changes to the Air Carrier Access Act introduced the "Equivalent Service” requirement which obligates carriers to give Internet fare discounts and other web-based amenities over the phone to customers who cannot use websites due to a disability.
However, this is the first time the “Equivalent Service” requirement is adopted by a non-US airline and offered to customers with disabilities regardless of their destination.
The second element, the change to the airline’s name change policy is revolutionary. Each carrier has its own policy for name changes.
Some, like American Airlines, do not allow change of names once a ticket has been issued. Delta Air Lines only allow name corrections for a fee.
Others, like Ryanair and easyjet, allow name change before check-in for a fee; Ryanair charges between £110 and £160, easyjet between £35 and £40.
Emirates allow name changes, but may charge a fee depending on the fare conditions of the ticket.
Virgin Australia radical approach to the name change policy is bound to send shock waves throughout the airline industry.
Albeit limited to carers’ names, the adoption of a simple and free procedure for name change is likely to affect the entire name change and name correction process across the industry.
I think Jenny Brown is unaware of the impact her complaint is having on air travel, but I am sure she and her son will be proud to learn that the fix to their disability-related problem has the potential to make air travel simpler and less expensive for all.