CANBERRA, Australia - Ludwig van Beethoven would not be allowed to fly alone on a Tiger Airways flight if he were alive today because of the Singapore-owned airline's purported policy on deaf passengers, a government minister said Friday.
Bill Shorten used the example of Beethoven - who famously continued composing until his death in 1827 despite losing his hearing - in condemning the treatment of deaf passengers by the Australian subsidiary of Singapore-based budget carrier Tiger Airways.
The policy bars deaf passengers from flying unless accompanied by a fare-paying adult care provider, a Tiger Airways reservations agent who said she goes by only one name, Jinky, told The Associated Press.
But airline spokesman Matt Hobbs denied that the airline had such a policy, and said he was investigating why air crews and call center staff in the Philippines were telling passengers otherwise.
Shorten, Australia's parliamentary secretary for disabilities and children's services, said he telephoned the airline Friday to tell them that barring deaf people from flying alone was wrong.
"Under this, Beethoven would never have been able to catch a plane" on his own, Shorten told Sky Television. "Just because people are deaf doesn't mean that they're stupid."
A group of four deaf adults has lodged a complaint with the Australian government's anti-discrimination watchdog agency after a representative of Tiger Airways Australia told them last month that they could not make an interstate flight without a care provider who could hear, the Herald Sun newspaper reported Friday.
The group was eventually permitted to take their seats on the March 4 flight but a flight attendant told them they would not be allowed to fly alone again on the airline, the newspaper said.
Hobbs, Tiger Airways Australia's head of corporate communications, said the cabin manager had written the four a note saying: "In future, so you know, you'll need to travel with a carer for safety reasons."
"We're clarifying with all staff that deaf people do not require a carer to travel with them," Hobbs said, adding that he could not explain the widespread misunderstanding within his company.
"We are apologetic and very sorry that the people involved in this feel in any way that they've been discriminated against or upset by this in any way," he said.
Hobbs said his company's sister airline, Tiger Airways Singapore, had changed its policy that once required deaf passengers to be accompanied by a care provider.
The Australian subsidiary of Singapore-based Tiger Aviation entered the Australian domestic aviation market last November. Its Australian competitors allow deaf passengers to fly alone.