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Abstract

This paper presents an understanding of the air travel experiences of people with disabilities and draws implications for improving airline management practices. The theoretical foundation for the paper is based on applying a social approach to disability to the airline sector. The research design used a modified grounded and phenomenological qualitative approach that sought to understand the experiences of people with disabilities in their own words. These experiences were contrasted to the policies, procedures and operations of the three major Australian domestic airlines. The methods used to understand the experiences involved semi-structured, in-depth interviews that were part of a larger study into the tourism experiences of people with disabilities. Fifteen in-depth interviews were undertaken together with an analysis of the qualitative responses to a broader quantitative study on the same topic. The interviews were supplemented with complaint cases taken against airlines through the Australian Disability Discrimination Act, 1992. What emerged as the ‘essence of experience’ was that airline procedures created a newly disembodied experience that transformed a person's impairment into socially constructed disability. The social construction was a product of international air regulations, airline procedures, pressures brought about by the introduction of low-cost airlines into Australia and a new wave of occupational health and safety considerations. The resultant experience for many was one of heightened anxiety, helplessness and, in too many cases, humiliation.

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FLYING WITH IMPAIRMENTS: IMPROVING AIRLINE PRACTICES BY UNDERSTANDING THE EXPERIENCES OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES

This paper presents an understanding of the air travel experiences of people with disabilities and draws implications for improving airline management practices. The theoretical foundation for the paper is based on applying a social approach to disability to the airline sector. The research design used a modified grounded and phenomenological qualitative approach that sought to understand the experiences of people with disabilities in their own words. These experiences were contrasted to the policies, procedures and operations of the three major Australian domestic airlines. The methods used to understand the experiences involved semi-structured, in-depth interviews that were part of a larger study into the tourism experiences of people with disabilities. Fifteen in-depth interviews were undertaken together with an analysis of the qualitative responses to a broader quantitative study on the same topic. The interviews were supplemented with complaint cases taken against airlines through the Australian Disability Discrimination Act, 1992. What emerged as the ‘essence of experience’ was that airline procedures created a newly disembodied experience that transformed a person's impairment into socially constructed disability. The social construction was a product of international air regulations, airline procedures, pressures brought about by the introduction of low-cost airlines into Australia and a new wave of occupational health and safety considerations. The resultant experience for many was one of heightened anxiety, helplessness and, in too many cases, humiliation.