A woman travelling from Melbourne to Sydney with her autistic daughter said she was left with tears streaming down her face after a Jetstar agent refused to board the teenager’s service dog.
What was meant to be a weekend of family fun for Doris Dehm and her 16-year-old daughter Anna came to a crashing halt before it ever got going on Saturday afternoon.
The 62-year-old Melbourne mother told Yahoo7 she had already given the airline notice of their intention to travel with Anna’s support dog, Dalma – something they had done at least 11 times before.
But when they arrived at the gate, they were told they would need to purchase an extra ticket for Dalma, despite their policy saying otherwise.
“Everything was organised… it was only at the gate when I was confronted with this lady saying your dog needs a seat and you need to pay,” an emotional Ms Dehm recalled.
“She said ‘of course there is a charge… you’re not getting on this flight until you pay’.
“I said please just read your policy.”
It was at this point Anna started to become emotional, rocking back and forwards as the staff member attempted to read the company’s policy for the next 10 to 15 minutes.
“Meanwhile everyone else has boarded the plan. She came back and said [their policy indicated] that we would have to pay.”
Ms Dehm said further attempts from her other daughter, who was awaiting their arrival in Sydney, to speak to the staff member were rejected.
With the situation becoming increasingly hostile, the emotional mother decided to simply buy the ticket for Dalma – an approach that was also rejected.
“We just tried to do everything we could to get on that plane but by the end the doors had closed,” she added.
“I came back and put my credit card on the desk and she said ‘I’m not letting you on the plane’ as I displayed inappropriate behaviour.
“She wouldn’t take my credit card, she wouldn’t talk to my daughter, so I put my daughter on loud speaker, but she just walked away.”
Ms Dehm then tried another counter where she was told she would have to pay a further $348 for the dog’s ticket.
As tears began to stream down her face, Anna could see something was not right and began screaming, prompting airport security to enter the scene and provide support for the stranded family.
Nearly two hours after missing their intended flight, a Jetstar staff member realised their mistake and offered to place the family on the next flight out to Sydney.
“We were too exhausted… we couldn’t do it,” Ms Dehm said, declining to rebook another flight and instead cancelled the trip entirely.
Ms Dehm said Anna, who was non-verbal until the age of eight, has a history of trauma due to early deprivation before she was adopted.
They picked up Dalma as a way to way calm her down and provide emotional support.
“Kids with trauma are extremely anxious, Anna couldn’t sleep, she was scared to close her eyes,”
A Jetstar spokesperson told Yahoo7 the staff member in question had “made a mistake” and was undergoing training to remind her of their existing policies.
“We acknowledge this error was upsetting for Doris and Anna, and we’ve implemented further training for our teams to ensure our policies are consistently applied so this doesn’t happen again,” the spokesperson said.
“We carry hundreds of service dogs each year and our policy has always been that there is no charge for this.”
Ms Dehm said she hopes the airline will use their experience to better educate the staff so that no one else has to go through what they did.