Airline says ‘no’ to help for tetraplegic


A Christchurch tetraplegic is being forced to pay thousands of dollars for an in-flight carer because Air New Zealand staff cannot help him into his seat.

Alan Pullar said he had to pay for a carer to fly to the United States with him and his wife next month because Air New Zealand would not provide staff to lift him in and out of his seat.

Pullar, 62, has been in a wheelchair since he broke his neck in a rugby scrum when he was 20.

His daughter, Jess, will graduate from Boston College next month. He and wife Barbara planned a trip to the US to see her, but it has had to be cut back because of the extra expense of taking a carer.

Pullar had flown with Singapore Airlines and some European airlines with no problems. His wheelchair could not fit down the aisles of the planes, but either airline staff or airport firemen had been arranged to lift him into his seat, he said.

Air New Zealand and Qantas, both with direct flights to the US, had refused to provide the service to disabled customers.

“It’s a simple thing, but it’s an issue and it’s an expensive issue,” Pullar said. “I just want this for others. I can afford to take a carer, but a lot of people can’t and for two weeks it’s a lot of money.”

It was annoying that millions of dollars was spent on kneel-down buses, wheelchair ramps and toilets for the disabled, but something so simple could not be sorted out, he said.

“We should have the right to travel, especially on our own airline,” Pullar said.

Once on the plane he did not need toilet facilities or extra help, so there was no need for a carer to be with him.

Barbara Pullar said paying for an extra person to go on the trip meant the couple would be unable to do other things they were planning this year.

“It’s just another thing you have to struggle with because you are disabled,” she said.

Their other daughter, Emily, lived in Auckland but they were unable to visit because of the airline’s regulations, she said.

Air New Zealand communications executive Andrea Dale said the airline’s policy was “intended to minimise the risk of injury to staff and customers through manual lifting”.

“For customers travelling internationally, a support person is required to accompany someone unable to self-transfer to or from their seat and who requires a manual lift,” she said.

“This support person is required in recognition of the longer flight time and the additional personal support likely to be required throughout the flight for both personal needs and also any potential aircraft emergency that would require evacuation.”