An Adelaide disability advocate says he felt “embarrassed” and “shocked” while travelling with Virgin Australia last week. 

Shane Hryhorec, who travels frequently for work and leisure, uses a wheelchair and has a service dog.

Mr Hryhorec said he often faced challenges when boarding planes, but his most recent experience left him reeling. 

“When I arrived at the airport and to get on the airplane, I was quite shocked, their customer service just wasn’t there, the support for a person with a disability, especially with a service dog was just non-existent,” Mr Hryhorec said.

“The person that was greeting people just stared at me and didn’t offer any assistance, I waited for about 30 seconds and I was like, ‘Can you give me a hand?’ and he responded back going, ‘I can’t leave the door, I can’t help you.'”

Shane Hryhorec’s wheelchair on the tarmac at Gold Coast Airport.(Supplied)

Mr Hryhorec said he was then incorrectly informed that he could not sit at the window seat, despite the cabin supervisor having assured him that it was OK.

“When I went to sit on the window seat, the cabin crew member quite rudely said to me, ‘You can’t sit there, that seat is for the dog’, and I was quite shocked at the tone they spoke to me,” he said. 

“After the cabin crew spoke to me that way, I was definitely embarrassed because all the people in the cabin witnessed this person being quite rude and condescending towards me.”

When Mr Hryhorec arrived at Gold Coast Airport, he was faced with another challenge.

His wheelchair was gate checked, meaning it needed to be brought to the airplane door upon arrival.

“They had a ramp connected to the door, but the staff said that they weren’t able to bring my wheelchair to the door, up the ramp because they weren’t trained to do so,” he said.

Mr Hryhorec explained to staff that he could not handle his service dog properly without his own chair.

Shane Hryhorec’s service dog Whitney on a flight in March 2024.(Supplied)

“The cabin manager rolled their eyes and sighed, you could tell their disappointment,” he said.

A disability passenger lift was later used to transport Mr Hryhorec and his service dog into his wheelchair.

“It was disappointing that had to happen for my wheelchair to be brought to the door,” he said. 

“My wheelchair is quite small and compact, it weighs 9.5 kilograms and is actually smaller than the airport chairs.”

Mr Hryhorec said wheelchair users and people with disability often experienced ‘flying anxiety’ due to incidents like this.

“It’s just disappointing that these incidents happen again and again and again, and we keep complaining but, unfortunately things just don’t seem to get any better,” he said. 

Virgin Australia said it had reached out to Mr Hryhorec.(AAP: Darren England)

He said he hoped to see airlines take up mandatory training for disability awareness.

“Airports and airlines need to work together,” he said. 

“There should be absolutely no reason why a manual wheelchair cannot be pushed up a compliant ramp to the door of an airplane, so these things need to be fixed so other people don’t go through the same experiences.”

A Virgin Australia spokesperson said it had reached out to Mr Hryhorec to apologise. 

“We have investigated the complaint and reached out to the guest, providing information about our policies,” the spokesperson said. 

“While our crew followed the appropriate procedures, we have apologised to the guest for their disappointment with the customer service they experienced.”

Many other people living with disability have shared their stories with the ABC about the difficulties faced while travelling. 

Earlier this year, Australia’s former disability discrimination commissioner Graeme Innes settled a dispute with Adelaide Airport over a “humiliating and distressing” experience with security screening.

Model and disability access consultant Akii Ngo shared their experience of falling out of a wheelchair after being pushed too hard while travelling with Jetstar