TWEED policeman and Paralympian Bill Chaffey has launched a petition against Jetstar Australia after the athlete was left scathing at not being able to access his wheelchair when flying to Sydney.
Mr Chaffey, a five-time paratriathlete world champion who competed in Rio this year, said he was made to feel "disabled”, when left "on display in the gate lounge like a zoo animal” after travelling from the Gold Coast for work earlier this week.
Chaffey said Jetstar couldn't allow him access to his day chair on arrival at the terminal gate.
"I mentioned (to staff) that I needed my chair at the door (in Sydney). The flight stewardess said she'd try to (provide) it but when I arrived in Sydney the ground crew said they couldn't,” Mr Chaffey said.
Mr Chaffey said he was left sitting alone for 10 minutes after staff pushed him from the door of the plane in an aisle chair and into the gate lounge.
"I was left alone in the little aisle chair which is like a trolley, they said they'd have to leave you here to board the next plane,” Mr Chaffey said.
"It's hard to explain how I felt, but it felt like I'd been left there on show. Being left on display in the gate lounge like a zoo animal was humiliating and degrading.”
Mr Chaffey said his $7000 racing chair and $4000 day chair were left on the carousel while he was forced to wait for staff, which anyone could have simply walked off with.
"Only after they'd finished boarding the next flight did they return to me and push me directly to the baggage collection carousel,” he said.
"I needed the bathroom and something to eat but I was denied access to that. Other passengers can wander off and do that but I can't.”
A Jetstar spokesperson said the airline had contacted Mr Chaffey to apologise for the confusion but reiterated the airline regularly assisted patients requiring special assistance.
"We have contacted Bill this week to apologise for his experience. We carry around 60,000 customers with wheelchairs each year and regularly make arrangements for their wheelchair to be available as soon as they get off the aircraft,” the spokesperson said.
"We provide customers with a wheelchair to use while their wheelchair is in the cargo hold. Customers are able to make special requests by contacting our call centre to add notes to their booking for our check-in and on-board teams.”
The spokesperson said usually a customer's chair would be retrieved for the customer to be used when exiting the aircraft.
"We are looking into why this didn't occur this time and we've reiterated to our airport teams the procedures for assisting customers with wheelchairs,” the spokesperson said.
Chaffey said while it was nice to receive the apology, he was focused on seeing change implemented.
"I don't want sorry, what I want is for me or anybody else to not have to go through that,” Mr Chaffey said.
"I just think they should make changes to be in line with all the other carriers in Australia who clearly put people first.
"As a patron for Tweed access and inclusion awards, it's something that sits really close to me. It's all about access and inclusion and as that patron, it's important that I push that.”
Chaffey's change.org petition was launched on Monday, and already has more than 16,400 signatures.
Chaffey was due to fly home tonight on Jetstar but NSW Police changed his flight, with the athlete now booked to come home with Virgin Australia.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.