Australian carrier Virgin Australia is addressing availability of on-board aisle chairs after receiving an open letter from the mother of a disabled child.
"In September 2014, our family went on a much-needed holiday to Fiji," Heike Fabig said in her open letter to John Borghetti, CEO of Virgin Australia. "It took some time to sort out all practicalities; after all we were travelling with two kids who are wheelchair users, but your staff were friendly and patient and all got sorted out satisfactory."
Things took a sharp turn for the worse two hours into our flight from Sydney to Nadi, when Mrs Fabig's son needed the toilet.
"We were shocked to find that a 4-hour flight with two wheelchair users on board had no aisle chair for me to take him to the toilet," she said. "I expect all flights to have a foldable aisle chair on board, at the very least on a flight that has wheelchair-using passengers on board. Other companies, such as Qantas, provide this essential service."
"Virgin Australia is continually looking at ways to improve our airline and we are committed to ensuring our guests with special access requirements have the best possible travel experience," a Virgin Australia spokesperson told Reduced Mobility Rights on Monday. "This particular matter is currently being investigated by the business. Virgin Australia has sincerely apologised to the guest for any inconvenience caused in this situation and we are in contact with the guest regarding this matter."
The airline operates a fleet of 105 planes. All six Airbus 330 and five Boeing 777 are fitted with aisle chairs. However, none of Virgin’s remaining 94 planes are fitted with aisle chairs.
“Our A330 fleet fly domestically between Perth in Western Australia and the East Coast of Australia and the Boeing 777 fleet fly on our long haul international routes to Abu Dhabi and Los Angeles,” the Virgin spokesperson said. “The particular aircraft Mrs Fabig and her family were on was a Boeing 737 which is a narrow body aircraft and it’s the cabin configuration on the narrow body aircraft which we are currently looking at a solution for.”
The Boeing 737 is the best-selling jet airliner in the history of aviation. According to statistics, there are over 1.250 737 planes airborne at any given time of the day.
US carrier Southwest is the largest 737 operator in the world, with 674 airplanes in fleet. Ryanair is the largest European operator with 306 737s in fleet. Both carriers offer on-board aisle chairs on all planes.