All we wanted was an apology, say evicted Qantas passengers
- Category: Headline News
- Published Date
A group of Aboriginal men, suing Australia’s national carrier, Qantas for discrimination and false imprisonment after they were removed from a flight from Sydney to Kempsey, have claimed Qantas allegations about their conduct were clearly wrong and they have the eye witness account of the Federal independent MP, Rob Oakeshott to support them.
Among the reasons Qantas said the men were removed from the plan was because they were drinking alcohol and smoking within the airport terminal and on the tarmac before boarding the plan.
However, one of the men suing Qantas, Michael Edwards from Kempsey on the central north coast of New South Wales, challenged Qantas to explain if those allegations were true why were the men allowed to board the plan in the first place?
Michael Edwards, the senior member of the group, said the group decided to sue Qantas and the case has come to court after three years of failed attempts at conciliation because Qantas had refused to simply apologise for their treatment. Mr Edwards said all the group wanted in the first place was a written apology.
“We’re going to sue them for discrimination, false imprisonment and treating us like criminals when all it boiled down to initially was we wanted an apology and they said ‘no, you were playing up on the plane, you were drunk, you were smoking on the tarmac, you were smoking inside the terminals’,” he said.
However, Mr Edwards said the Qantas allegations of drinking and smoking in the terminal and on the tarmac raised serious questions about the national carrier’s version of the events.
“I don’t know. They said we were intoxicated and smoking in the terminal and on the tarmac and everything,” Mr Edwards said. “Now they’re saying we were smoking on the tarmac, they were worried about planes blowing up.
“If that was true and we were doing what they claimed, why did they even allow us to board the plane?”
The incident, which occurred three years ago, happened while the men were on their way home from a FaHCSIA Leadership management program in Cairns, Queensland. They were due to fly from Sydney to Port Macquarie where they were to be met by their family members to then drive home.
Michael Edwards remains confused even three years later as to what sparked the incident.
“We got on the plane at Sydney airport, we sat down and one of the stewardesses asked us to get off and all I asked was why?” Mr Edwards said.
“That’s all I asked was why and she said ‘oh, you blokes have been playing up, and these are the exact words she used, ‘you’ve been swearing and carrying on on the plane’.”
Not only does Michael Edwards dispute the Qantas claim the men were “behaving in a rowdy and boisterous manner”, he is backed up by Rob Oakeshott, the independent Federal Member of Parliament, who was also on the flight.
“From anything I saw there was nothing untoward and if everything that I saw was everything the reaction from Qantas did look heavy-handed in response to some fellas who were excited about going home,” Mr Oakeshott said.
Mr Oakeshott supports the men’s story that they were not being rowdy on the plane.
“No way, no, they were not being rowdy,” he said.
“I didn’t see anything and I know from conversations I had on the plane with other passengers there was a pretty similar view held from anyone I spoke to anyway,” Mr Oakeshott said.
“I’ve made a statement to the court and we’ll see what happens from here,” he said.
The ABC has reported Qantas flight attendant, Kelly Kalimnios claimed in an affidavit the men were behaving in a rowdy and boisterous manner. She said one of the men told her: “F*** off you f****** white trash” and they ignored requests to calm down.”
But Mr Edwards said the claims by the stewardess were fabricated.
“That’s all lies,” Mr Edwards said. “Calm down from what? We were sitting down, I had put my seat belt on and suddenly she tells us we have to leave,” he said.
Mr Edwards has always said all the group wanted initially was an apology.
“All we wanted from them was an apology for putting us off the plane and they couldn’t even do that and now it’s gone from this to this,” he said.
So the case is destined for court, the men have a written statement from their local Federal Member and Qantas have affidavits only from staff and Mr Edwards said he has now been told there was no surveillance footage and the Australian Federal Police had “no recollection of the incident”.
After the men were put off the plane accounts of what happened next diverge once again. Mr Edwards said the men were put on a bus and driven around the terminal for two hours waiting for the Australian Federal Police to arrive but Qantas claims the men waited no more than 10 minutes in a stationary bus with the door open.
“So they put us on a bus and drove us around the deck of the tarmac for two hours waiting for the Federal Police to come. And after two hours they wouldn’t let us have a drink or go to the toilet or nothing,” Mr Edwards said.
Whatever the truth of the incident with being detained against their will on the bus, Rob Oakeshott was also “disappointed” with the way Qantas treated the men’s relatives when the plane landed.
“Just to put it all on the record, the other bit that left me disappointed was the families of these fellas were not informed they had been taken off the plane and so as someone who has a bit of a known face around Port Macquarie when I got off the pane I was having to do Qantas diplomacy because everyone was asking me ‘where’s my husband?’ and that’s not my role,” Mr Oakeshott said.
A Qantas spokesperson supplied the National Indigenous Times with an e-mailed statement saying the company’s version of the events of the day were supported by affidavits. All the affidavits mentioned by Qantas have been supplied by Qantas staff.
“Qantas has a very different version of events and we’ll be defending these claims in court. Broadly speaking, Qantas has a zero tolerance policy towards behaviour it believes could compromise the safety of anyone on our aircraft. This policy is applied equally to all passengers,” the statement said.