Elderly, blind gran banned from birthday flight in holiday nightmare

Sep 05, 2019
Grandmother Valma Bradshaw was denied travel due to a photo identification mix-up with Qantas. Source: Getty

An elderly and blind grandmother was reduced to tears this week after her dream holiday was put on halt due to “ignorant, arrogant” airline staff, in a nightmare described by her son as completely “un-Australian”.

Valma Bradshaw, 80, was set to jet off to Norfolk Island on Tuesday with her son Paul on a trip which had been planned for over a year, paid for with the help of her many grandchildren as a birthday treat. However, the once in a lifetime holiday was stopped in its tracks over a bizarre photo ID mix-up which saw her and Paul prevented from boarding.

Speaking to Starts at 60 about the altercation, Paul said they arrived at the airport in Townsville, north Queensland, an hour early for their flight south to Brisbane, claiming that from the word go they were met with a lack of compassion from the staff member at the Qantas desk.

According to government guidelines, passports and visas are not required when travelling to Norfolk Island from the Australian mainland, however passengers are required to bring along a form of photo ID, such as an Australian Driver’s Licence or a Proof of Age card. However, after approaching the desk, Paul and his mother, who has been completely blind since the age of 30, were asked to present a passport for boarding. When Paul explained his mother didn’t have one – and it shouldn’t be necessary anyway – the staff member allegedly claimed it was the first time they’d heard that information.

After clearing up that initial mix-up, the staff member proceeded to ask Valma, who will celebrate her 81st birthday next month, for photo ID – to which she pulled out her Proof of Age card which displayed the name “Mary Valma Bradshaw”. Valma’s legal name is Mary, however she has gone by Valma for most of her life and hence the booking was made under this name.

While the grandmother had many other forms of identification – including a Taxi Subsidy card issued by the Queensland Government with a photo of herself and a credit card, both with the name Valma Mary Bradshaw, as was printed on her ticket – she was banned from boarding the flight to Brisbane.

Paul said they were pushed to the side as they waited for the supervisor to discuss the issue but the situation went further south as they were continually told there was nothing more Qantas could do to help out. “We knew when we were pushed to the side that we were going to miss our flight,” Paul explained to Starts at 60. “The anxiety started to set in and then everything went down the gurgler. You try and be calm and appeal but I was dealing with ignorance and arrogance.”

He explained they waited for some time to hear back from the supervisor as to whether they could proceed with their holiday plans but sadly in the end were told there was no way they could board the flight they had previously booked from Townsville and were instead advised to try and get on a later flight. Unfortunately though, doing so would mean they would miss their next flight to Norfolk Island.

Paul explained he even offered to buy a new ticket under the name Mary Valma Bradshaw to get the two to Brisbane to sort out the change of name with Flight Centre and Air New Zealand, whom they were flying with to Norfolk Island, but were told this wasn’t an option. While he understood that they were at fault for the mix-up with ID for the flight to Norfolk Island, he claimed it didn’t make any sense that they weren’t allowed to at least travel the first leg of the trip within Australia.

“Qantas had the right to deny our flight to Norfolk Island but they never gave us the opportunity to purchase a seat on the same flight to Brisbane,” he explained to Starts at 60. “We could have bought it on the spot but they claimed they’d be responsible for bringing us back to Townsville if we couldn’t sort out the matter in Brisbane and they would receive a fine. We were poorly treated. There was no passport, no flight to start off with and then they just pushed us to the side.”

Having been looking forward to the trip for months on end, Paul explained his mother was too distraught to talk following the altercation. He said she was full of anxiety while at the airport on Tuesday morning and struggled to hold back her tears. This just added to the stress to the situation of travelling such a long distance for the first time.

“There was no empathy or sympathy, just ignorance and arrogance,” Paul explained. “They could see mum was distressed about the whole thing but didn’t help. Qantas did not see a solution. What they did was completely un-Australian.”

Valma and Paul are now planning to head off to Norfolk Island next month but explained the holiday won’t be the same, with their accomodation changed due to the different dates of travel. Instead of enjoying their own space in a two bedroom place, they will have to settle with one bedroom.

Although Paul said this won’t be a huge problem it has added to the frustration of the whole matter, and anxiety for Valma, who was already feeling nervous about travelling. “The staff at Qantas were completely ignorant of the rules of their own airline and that of Air New Zealand which the flight was booked under. They also seemed to have no idea that you didn’t need a passport to travel to Norfolk Island.”

Travel at 60 helps to organise trips to Norfolk Island for many Baby Boomers and explained, as outlined by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, although passports and visas are not required for Aussies travelling to Norfolk Island, a valid passport is recommended as ID to help avoid any difficulties.

“We recommend travelling with a passport if you have one, however, technically photographic identification for Australian citizens such as an Australian driver’s licence, will be acceptable,” Travel at 60 Team Leader Kellie Banditt explained. “It’s important you provide us with your full name as it appears on your Passport or Drivers licence to ensure your ticket matches your ID document. Those without a passport may experience some delays with manual customs checks.”

She added: “Those travelling without a passport should also be aware that in the event of a flight diversion e.g. due to inclement weather preventing the aircraft to land on the island, the flight could be diverted to New Zealand. Those passengers without an Australian or NZ passport will not be permitted to leave the transit area at Auckland airport.”

Paul admitted their situation was a bit of a grey area and urged anyone travelling in the near future to double check all of their ID matches that of the ticket exactly to avoid complications. Meanwhile, a Qantas spokesman said they would be getting in touch with the customers to understand what occurred, after being approached for comment by Starts at 60.

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