The rollercoaster adventures of parenting three kids, dealing with disability and mental health.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Wednesday, 28 January 2015


Email to CEO of Virgin Australia

Mr. John Borghetti
CEO Virgin Australia

Dear John

In September 2014, our family went on a much-needed holiday to Fiji. Our oldest son was very sick, and we had had a very difficult year, so my father in law shouted us a holiday – travel and accommodation all booked via Virgin Australia Holidays and Airlines.

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. Until two hours into our flight from Sydney to Nadi, when our oldest son (then 13) 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. 

If you are interested in the details of our experience, you can read all about it on my blog ( In a nutshell, this is how, in desperation, I dragged my 50kg sick son to the toilet:

The same occurred on our way home to Sydney. I contacted your customer service team and nothing happened. Only after I wrote about my experience on my blog and it was picked up and re-tweeted by Stella Young did I suddenly get a response, a long telephone call from Matthew Dixon, your Guest Experience Manager. 

I explained to Matthew that I expect all flights to have a foldable aisle chair on board – but the very least on a flight that has wheelchair-using passengers on board. Other companies – such as Qantas – provide this essential service. Matthew assured me that he was working on it, and would get back to me. I offered to do whatever I can to help. He said I would have “24/7 access to him” and promised to get back to me by the 18th of November.

I am still waiting to receive a satisfactory response. I have received two almost identically worded template email (13th December 2014 and 22nd of January 2015) stating “Thank you for your patience. My colleagues and I continue to review this matter and will be in contact in due course”.

I’m sorry, but that’s just not good enough.

I want to know what is actually happening. I want to know WHY you do not have an aisle chair on all flights. Matthew mentioned something about “international safety regulations” but surely they can’t be that complicated that Qantas can comply with them and Virgin Australia cannot? I fail to find anything on the CASA, which outlines safety issues with regards to aisle chairs, in fact, quite the opposite. 

The website states, in its “Guide for Airline Operators: Ensure the aisle chair is available during every flight. (…) Not having the aisle chair available during a flight and refusing to help a passenger to the toilet is a denial of their rights”. (

If there are other safety regulations Matthew was thinking of, could someone please explain these safety regulations to me? How does Virgin Australia intend to address basic human rights of its disabled passengers with these regulations? 

Furthermore, I would like to know what your policies and procedures are when you get confronted by a customer issue like this. Matthew told me his team was meeting with various air safety specialists. Please can someone explain to me, which meetings are attended, by whom, and what is discussed/proposed there. 

John, my son is 13 years old and became seriously ill in 2014. Within the spate of two months he lost the ability to walk and toilet independently. Can you imagine how embarrassed and mortified he felt?

While I was certainly not happy with the initial issue, I have grown even more frustrated with the responses (or lack of) I have received from Virgin Australia. 

Please can you adequately respond to the initial situation my son found himself in on your planes in September 2014? Can you please inform me, in writing, what Virgin Australia intends to do with regards to on board aisle wheelchairs, and to the questions I have outlined above.

Sincerely Yours

Heike Fabig
[contact details]

Monday, 17 November 2014

Breathing is so overrated

Some days, I just can't believe some of the things I hear.

Listen to this one.

A sweet friend of mine put in a request with NSW disability equipment Provider Enabe for a shower chair for her dear child. This requires a whole ream of paper, to be filled in by a qualified OT working for registered service provider.

The reply came that, yes, the chair was approved. However, the requested harness was denied as the tilt on chair would suffice to keep the child seated just fine. 

So the mother rang and asked the senior advisor to read out loud what OT had written as the reason for needing a harness.

"[Child] needs harness to keep their shoulders back to prevent chin and neck tilting forward which interrupts breathing "

I am pleased to be able to tell you all that my friend had a "fairly serious discussion" and a harness will be provided - and she even avoided the normal 21 day appeal process. 

But if "lack of breathing" is not a decent enough justification, you really gotta wonder what is???!!!! 

(And again. Why do we need qualified OTs to fill in all this paperwork if a bureaucrat overrides their professional advice ?!?!$

Tuesday, 11 November 2014


Paperwork to apply for funding under the incontinence scheme (for things such as nappies and catheters):

Because "pissing your pants and sitting in them is undignified" is not a good enough reason!

Back again

Here we are, back in hospital again. 

Four bottles of this life-saving stuff for Beaver. 

A day of rest at home tomorrow. 

And another four bottles on Thursday.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Virgin Australia

How do you take a 50kg wheelchair user to the toilet on a 4 hour Virgin Australia flight. You drag or carry them is how!

My father-in-law booked us (him and his wife plus the five of us) on a lovely and much needed break to Fiji. He still had some outstanding Virgin Australia tickets from the trip to Bali we missed out on when hubby broke his ankle last year. So Virgin Australia it was, Sydney to Nadi, and SoftiTel on Demerau, a resort style hotel close to the airport to minimize traveling, swimmers in the suitcase.

After our recent experience traveling to Alaska and Vancouver Island with two wheelies, we knew the ropes. Hubby rang both the hotel and the airline to check and double check they were aware and prepared for wheelchairs. Also, at the time of our booking (in the first half of this year) we had one child using a wheelchair, but now we have two, so best to notify everyone of this additional set of wheels.

Hubby rang Virgin Australia and started a complicated game of phone tag between Virgin Australia Holidays and Airlines. No one could quite work out whose responsibility our complicated request might be.  

Eventually someone with some sort of authority assured us that yes, we could take the wheelchairs to the door of the plane (thanks Kurt Fearnley!) and yes, there would be an aisle chair available. We requested and received seats close to the toilets and all of us would be seated together.

We headed off to Sydney Airport on Saturday (28/09/2014) for our four hour flight to Fiji (VA 183 from Sydney to Nadi). We headed off early because we have learned from experience that checking in five people, including two wheelchairs, takes ages. We don't mind too much, it's part and parcel of our situation, and we lighten the mood by joking about it with the poor check in person who drew the short straw and ended up with us.

We were able to take our wheelchairs to the door of the plane where I then carried BooBoo (8 years old and 20kg) to her seat (4th row) and one of those skinny aisle wheelchairs took Beaver (13 years old and 50kg) to his seat. For those wondering why I carry BooBoo - she cannot sit safely in the aile chairs the airlines provide and well, she’s still light enough.

Of course, we were not seated together. Our wonderful cabin crew took pity on our 11 year old and got another passenger to move. All good.

Except two hours into the flight I needed to take the oldest to the toilet. So I asked for the aisle chair. Our lovely flight attendant Lynska went red as a beetroot and explained to me that, eh, there wasn’t one. Never had been.

I was stunned.

So, how am I meant to change my son?

Eh. You could change him in his seat?

I bloody well will not. He is a 13 year old boy who has recently lost the use of his legs and became incontinent. I will NOT put him through the indignity of changing his nappy in front of a hundred people.

There were no other alternatives, so I lifted him up and carried him. Well, dragged him. Can’t quite carry a 50 kg dead weight person in a narrow aisle. My bad.

Lynska was possibly even more horrified than I was. She immediately wrote out an incident report and promised to email it to HQ that very evening. She wanted to know the details of our return flight and she would see what she could organize for us. She was deeply embarrassed by the situation, and I thank her for that.

On the way back to Sydney, of course, the same thing happened. This time our flight attendant (unfortunately I don’t remember her name) didn’t really care. She did explain to me that aisle chairs are only carried on board on long haul flights. There never have been any aisle chairs on board on “short” flights – not even when it is very clear from the booking that a wheelchair-using passenger is on board.

She didn’t really get why I was indignant – until I asked her if I shall just let my son soil himself and his seat (knowing full well that the cabin crew also clean the cabin at Virgin Australia). Suddenly she saw my point that one of them teeny tiny fold up aisle chairs might not be such a bad idea.

I have since contacted Virgin Australia (via Twitter). They were “very concerned” and “very sorry” and would ring me back.

Haven’t got a phone call yet. Funny that.

Seriously, if my son’s dignity wasn’t involved in all this, I would be sorely tempted to let him shit is pants and see what happens…