There are four airlines that fly domestically in Australia, and on some routes you can take your pick from any one of them. But how do you figure out which one will suit your access needs? We take a look at Australia’s most accessible airlines, with details about access and inclusion for Qantas, Virgin Australia, Jet Star, and Rex, to help you plan your flights.
A high-quality full-service airline, Qantas aims to offer a high level of support for customers with reduced mobility and other specific needs.
Qantas offers to help with booking flights if you or someone you’re booking for requires specific assistance. If you book online or through a travel agent, the airline recommends calling to arrange the specific type and level of assistance you require.
Passengers who require a wheelchair can submit a ‘wheelchair assistance request’ online or over the phone, which specifies if you’re travelling with or without your own mobility aid. Qantas allows two pieces of mobility equipment per person (under 32kg) as checked-in baggage, free of charge at time of writing.
If you travel with a Service Dog, Qantas requires that you contact them at the time of booking to provide ID details and make arrangements. Service Dogs must be under 45kg and be less than 86cm in length for travel in all aircraft cabins. There may be additional requirements for travelling with a Service Dog internationally, depending on the country, so it’s best to check the website or call Qantas before booking.
For domestic travel, passengers needing to travel with a carer are eligible for reduced fares for both themselves and their carer (current holders of a Carer Concession Card, a Centrelink Pensioner Concession Card with blind entitlement, or a travel pass for Person with Vision Impairment).
Qantas has a specific needs assistance line which can answer any of your queries, and can assist deaf, hearing and/or speech impaired customers via the National Relay Service. This contact information can be found on the Qantas website.
At The Airport
Qantas recommends allowing an additional 30 minutes for passengers requiring mobility assistance before check-in time to allow enough time for transfers and disassembling mobility aids when required.
Qantas can provide kerbside assistance (including wheelchairs) upon arrival at the airport – with the assistance of an accompanied traveller who can come inside to ask staff for kerbside assistance. Note that staff cannot assist with transfer to and from vehicles, due to health and safety regulations.
Qantas also provides the option to sign up to their ‘meet and assist’ service when you book, to assist passengers from check-in to departure gate, and then from arrivals gate to the baggage claim. They can also have someone meet you at the departure and arrival gates to collect and deliver mobility aids.
Passengers can choose to move from their wheelchair or other mobility aid to an aisle wheelchair either at check-in or at the departure gate, with the assistance of airport staff. In airports where aerobridges are unavailable for boarding, Qantas provides high lift vehicles for those who use mobility aids.
For domestic travel, Qantas provides a range of approved passenger-lifting devices for transfer from aisle wheelchairs to aircraft seats. These include slings, slide boards, jony belts, and Eagle Lifters. Please note that the availability of these passenger transfer methods can vary by airport, so it’s a good idea to call beforehand to ensure that the lifting device you require is available.
Passengers with specific additional needs will generally board before other passengers and disembark last. They will receive an individual safety briefing, and Safety Cards in Braille are available on most Qantas flights.
Qantas will, whenever possible, seat passengers with specific needs close to accessible toilets (on planes that have them), in aisle seats with moveable armrests, and next to an accompanying passenger or carer.
For international flights (on Airbus 380 and Boeing 787 aircraft), one manual collapsible wheelchair (weighing less than 30kg) can be stowed in the aircraft cabin by request at check-in. All other mobility aids can be stored in the check-in baggage compartment.
All of Qantas’s international and domestic aircraft are equipped with torso harness restraints to assist passengers to sit upright. The availability of these torso harnesses varies across classes, so passengers should call Qantas 48 hours before travel to confirm availability.
Qantas’s wide-bodied aircraft (A380 and A330) all have at least one accessible toilet on board, though their narrow-bodied aircraft (B737, B717, F100, and Dash 8) don’t. Most Qantas aircraft (exclusding 717, Fokker 100, and Dash 8) have aisle wheelchairs available on-board to escort passengers to and from toilets as necessary.
Medical equipment and medications may be brought on-board after obtaining a medical clearance form. Certain medications may require a medical certificate (stating that the medication is for personal use only) to be brought on-board, particularly when travelling internationally. When travelling overseas, be sure to consult the website of the country you are visiting before travelling with medications on-board.
A cabin crew member can read the in-flight menu to passengers who are blind or have low vision, and explain where food is placed on the tray, by request.
When in-flight announcements are made, cabin crew will provide relevant individual updates to d/Deaf and hearing-impaired passengers using their preferred method of communication (e.g., lip reading or written notes) whenever possible.
Qantas provides the choice to have your mobility aid delivered to you at the gate lounge upon arrival or to collect it yourself from the baggage claim area. Qantas staff can assist passengers with their flight connections and baggage transfer as needed.
All information about accessibility with Qantas can be found on their website.
As a full-service airline, Virgin Australia provides a high level of assistance for people with specific mobility, access, and medical needs.
When booking with Virgin Australia, passengers can complete the Specific Assistance form on the booking page to request assistance with mobility needs or vision or hearing impairments, to let the airline know if you are travelling with a Service Dog, and to advise whether you will be travelling alone or with a carer. When booking, it’s best to provide the airline with as much information as possible to ensure staff can assist you.
Virgin Australia has restrictions on the number of guests with mobility needs that they can accommodate on each flight (variable by aircraft and airport), so it’s best to call the airline when booking to request any specific assistance you may need.
Vision or hearing impaired passengers can make bookings online, over the phone or via the National Relay Service. Hearing impaired passengers can indicate at booking or at check-in whether they prefer to lip read, or have staff use pen and paper.
Passengers travelling with a Service Dog can make bookings online or over the phone, and will need to provide accreditation ID documents to fly.
At The Airport
Virgin Australia can provide mobility assistance from the kerbside (note that passengers need to be accompanied by a companion or carer who can notify staff inside that they have arrived).
At check-in, you can choose to check-in your manual or battery-operated wheelchair, and staff will provide you with an aisle wheelchair. Alternatively, you can choose to take your own wheelchair to the boarding gate to be stowed in the aircraft hold, and transfer to an aisle wheelchair just before boarding.
Note that the batteries in battery-powered mobility aids are considered dangerous goods, so there are strict restrictions on which types of batteries can be taken on flights. Information regarding which types of batteries are safe to fly can be found on Virgin Australia’s website.
Virgin Australia staff can assist with check-in and boarding for vision and hearing impaired passengers, providing escort to the gate and individually advising when pre-boarding commences.
Virgin Australia staff will ensure that passengers are transferred into an aisle wheelchair to board aircraft as close to the door as possible, if that is the passenger’s preference, and board before other passengers. At airports without an aerobridge, passengers can transfer to an aisle wheelchair at check-in or on the tarmac to board aircraft, via the Disabled Person Lifter (DPL).
Virgin Australia provides a range of mobility assistance and equipment for boarding, including manual aisle wheelchairs and the choice of slide boards, slide sheets, manual transfer slings and Eagle Lifts for passenger transfer between wheelchairs and seats.
Passengers with specific medical needs, including the use of medical equipment or medications on board, will need to complete a Medical Clearance Form pre-flight. Virgin Australia’s Medical Clearance Form allows exemptions to be made for passengers who must carry sharp items (such as a syringe for diabetes) or medications on-board, with a statement that these items are for personal use only.
Vision and hearing impaired passengers also board first, and will be provided an individual safety briefing to suit their specific needs. Braille and large-print safety instruction manuals are on-board all aircraft for blind and low-vision passengers.
All Virgin Australia flights are equipped with an on-board wheelchair. During the flight, cabin crew can assist with transferring passengers to the on-board toilet door (note that Virgin Australia aircraft are not equipped with wheelchair-accessible toilets).
All Virgin Australia aircraft are equipped with torso harnesses (two per aircraft) to allow passengers who require postural support to sit upright. You will need to contact the airline beforehand to reserve a torso harness. Virgin Australia also allows guests to bring aboard their own pre-approved postural support devices.
Virgin Australia staff can provide assistance to the baggage claim, to connecting flights, between terminals, and to the closest drop-off point, where required.
Upon arrival, passengers with mobility needs can either be transferred to an airport wheelchair or to their own manual wheelchair, upon request. At domestic airports, wheelchairs and mobility aids that were checked as baggage can be returned to passengers at the arrivals gate, rather than at baggage claim, also upon request.
All information about accessibility with Virgin Australia can be found on their website.
As a smaller budget airline, Jetstar doesn’t have the systems, staff, or supporting facilities to provide quite the same level of assistance as full-service airlines. However, there are many features of Jetstar’s service that can be helpful for passengers with specific needs.
When you book – whether online, over the phone, or through a travel agent – Jetstar asks that you always let them know at the time of booking if you have any specific medical, access, or mobility assistance requirements. With advance notice, they can ensure they have the assistance you need ready at the airport, on-board, and on arrival at your destination.
When making a booking for a person who uses a wheelchair or mobility aid, Jetstar asks that you specify what level of assistance will be required. Most Jetstar domestic flights can take a maximum of two customers requiring wheelchair assistance per flight, so it’s important to let them know as early as possible in the booking process. Mobility aids (up to 32kg) can be checked in as checked baggage, but cannot be taken on board as a carry-on item.
Passengers with hearing impairments have the option to book via the National Relay Service.
Passengers travelling with a Service Dog need to inform Jetstar at the time of booking and provide accreditation and ID documents.
Jetstar provides handy pre-flight checklists for travellers with specific needs.
At The Airport
Jetstar requires that passengers request at time of booking any assistance required to transfer from check-in to the departure date, and on board. As a smaller airline, Jetstar has a firm limit on the number of people they can provide assistance for each flight.
Passengers should arrive early with plenty of time to spare before departure of a Jetstar flight. The final hour before a flight is always the busiest, so there may be a longer wait-time for assistance to be provided close to departure time.
Jetstar staff are able to assist with all levels of wheelchair assistance to and from the aircraft and baggage claim, though not beyond baggage claim or with connecting flights. Passengers travelling alone who need assistance beyond this point will need to arrange to meet someone at the baggage claim.
Vision or hearing impaired passengers can let staff know at check-in if they would like assistance getting from check-in to their boarding gate or aircraft seat.
When flying Jetstar, passengers can use their own manual wheelchair up to the boarding gate in most instances (some flights may not allow this for operational reasons). Passengers are also usually offered the choice of being transferred to an airport wheelchair either at check-in or the boarding gate.
When boarding, Jetstar staff can provide a slide board for transfer between wheelchairs into the aircraft seat. Jetstar don’t use slings, hoists, Eagle Lifts, or manual lifting for passenger transfers, but passengers are welcome to bring their own sling.
Battery-powered wheelchairs (including manual wheelchairs that have a detachable battery or smart drive) require a Qantas dangerous goods approval before travel. To request this prior approval to travel with a battery-powered wheelchair, email Qantas with all details at least five days before flight departure.
Passengers with mobility needs or with a vision or hearing impairment will generally be invited to board first, and will receive an individual safety briefing on board.
Jetstar provides torso restraints to allow passengers to sit upright and secure during the flight. Be sure to let the airline know 48 hours in advance if a torso restraint is required.
Aisle wheelchairs and wheelchair-accessible toilets fitted with handrails are available on-board all Jetstar 787 aircraft – generally used for long-haul international flights. Aisle wheelchairs can be accessed on these flights by passengers who are able to transfer without a slide board. There are no aisle wheelchairs or wheelchair-accessible toilets available on-board Jetstar’s Airbus A320 and A321 aircraft, which are used for most domestic flights.
Jetstar will provide a wheelchair for use from the aircraft to the baggage claim area (where passengers can collect and use their own mobility aid). Note that Jetstar is not able to assist with wheelchairs and mobility aids beyond baggage claim, for connecting flights, or with mobility aid re-assembly. Passengers who are unable to re-assemble their mobility aid on their own will need to travel with a companion who can assist them.
Staff can assist passengers with a vision or hearing impairment to the baggage claim area, but not for connecting flights or further travel beyond the baggage claim.
All information about accessibility with Jetstar can be found on their website.
Rex is a domestic airline that connects Australia’s major cities with regional and remote destinations. As a smaller airline that flies to remote areas, Rex is able to provide some assistance to passengers who require it, but they do take extra safety precautions and have limitations on their regional flights and at their regional airports.
All specific needs and assistance requests for Rex flights can be made at the time of booking. As it is a small airline, Rex requires at least 48 hours’ notice of any mobility assistance requirements, in order to provide the staff and equipment required.
If passengers are travelling with an oxygen tank or other breathing device on board, Rex requires notice at time of booking.
Passengers travelling with a Service Dog need to book over the phone to notify Rex.
It’s important to note that Rex staff at regional airports may not commence work until 30 minutes prior to the scheduled departure. If passengers require extra time for boarding assistance when travelling in a regional location, they must advise Rex at least 48 hours beforehand so that the airline can arrange appropriate staffing.
For Rex regional flights, passengers who require transfer assistance must have a carer travelling with them. Carers who must travel with a passenger with specific needs are guaranteed Rex’s lowest advertised fare. Submit a Rex Disability Assistance Form to ensure this rate applies.
At The Airport
Rex asks that passengers with a wheelchair or other mobility aid device check-in early to ensure enough time for assisted boarding. This means 90 minutes prior to departure time from major cities (and Burketown regional airport in Queensland), 60 minutes prior to departure from all Queensland regional airports, and 45 minutes prior to departure from regional airports in other states and territories.
At Rex airports, an aisle wheelchair will be provided for passengers with limited mobility to embark and disembark the aircraft, either at the gate lounge or at the aircraft door.
For safety reasons, passengers who use battery-operated wheelchairs will need to transfer to an aisle wheelchair at the gate lounge. All battery-operated mobility devices need to be approved and prepared according to Dangerous Goods Regulations. All wheelchairs and mobility aids need to be stowed as checked baggage on Rex flights.
Rex welcomes group travel for disabled passengers, and allows either one carer for every three disabled passengers or one carer for every five disabled passengers, depending on the passengers’ needs and abilities.
Passengers who have an unstable medical condition, or who may not fully understand safety briefings or announcements, or who are required to travel with a carer, will need to complete a Rex Medical Certificate of Fitness To Fly form.
Passengers will need to transfer to Rex’s aisle wheelchairs to embark and disembark. All personal wheelchairs and mobility aids will be stowed in the baggage area.
In airports without an aerobridge, passengers who cannot ascend or descend stairs can embark and disembark with the use of the Disabled Passenger Lifter (DPL). DPLs are available at Rex airports, except for Bedourie, Boulia, Burketown, and Karumba. Rex’s lift chairs help passengers with transfer from aisle wheelchairs into their aircraft seat on all Boeing 737-800 aircraft. Rex Saab 340 aircraft are not equipped to provide transfer assistance from aisle wheelchairs to aircraft seats.
Rex flights do not supply slide boards, slings, or Eagle Lifts to assist with passenger transfer. In Rex’s regional airports, carers will be required to assist passengers in transferring from their wheelchair to their aircraft seat. Alternatively, a Passenger Facilitator (a friend, relative, or carer who is not travelling with the passenger) can assist with boarding and disembarking, and does not need a boarding pass to do so.
Passengers with specific needs will embark before other passengers, and disembark after other passengers. They will also receive individual safety briefings, available in verbal, written, and pictorial format.
Cabin crew will bring individual cabin announcements to hearing impaired passengers, by lip reading or by the passenger’s preferred method of communication.
Rex aircraft are equipped with torso restraint harnesses for passengers who need assistance to sit upright. Rex requires a carer to accompany passengers who use these in-flight torso harnesses.
Rex aircraft do not have accessible bathrooms on board.
Rex staff can provide assistance to passengers with mobility needs for transfer to baggage claim, connecting flights, or the nearest airport taxi stand or pick-up point. Mobility devices which have been stored in the baggage hold will be returned to passengers by Rex staff as soon as possible after the flight.
All information about accessibility with Rex can be found on their website.
Our Tips For Smooth Flights
- Booking is the best time to inform the airline of any and all kinds of access needs. This will allow the airline time to organise equipment and staff to be ready to assist in all areas of your journey.
- Certain airlines (and specific aircraft) are equipped with a limited number of stowage spaces for wheelchair and equipment, such as torso restraints, lifting devices, and aisle wheelchairs. Be sure to inform the airline at the time of booking what mobility aid equipment you require, to reserve them ahead of time.
- Most airlines require that passengers with specific mobility and medical needs arrive early, in order to allow staff time to assist with check-in and boarding. It’s a good idea to check the airline’s website how much time they request or recommend allowing prior to departure. Bear in mind that there may be different timeframes for domestic, regional, and international flights.
- A Medical Clearance may be required for medical equipment and medications that need to be taken and/or used on board – including oxygen tanks, CPAP, medical syringes, and personal medications.
- A Dangerous Goods Declaration may be required for battery-operated mobility aids, depending on what type of battery they use. If you plan to travel with a battery-operated mobility aid, contact your airline for more information about what forms may be required.
- All airlines require passengers to adhere to Individual Travel Criteria to be able to travel alone. Passengers who don’t meet all criteria are required to travel with an accompanying passenger or carer.
This story first appeared in Travel Without Limits magazine. You can subscribe here.