A family refused permission to board a Jetstar flight from Sydney to Coolangatta has accused the carrier of racism and asked for an apology and compensation.
Vala Setareh, a Jetstar frequent flyer, and wife Dr Dona Hooshmand are seeking $10,000 in compensation after being refused to board Jetstar flight JQ412 on 18 March; the pair are also seeking an apology from a senior crew member on board the flight for “racially motivated” discrimination.
Setareh and Hooshmand, who were travelling with their two children and a grandparent, said they were refused permission to board by a senior crew member who ignored Hooshmand – who was carrying her baby and standing with her four-year-old son – and her request for assistance in lifting a barrier belt so that she could join her family.
The airline alleged this led to a dispute, where Hooshmand said she was accused of “attacking” the senior crew member, and the family’s boarding passes were confiscated; they were forced to stand aside while the rest of the passengers boarded, which Setareh and Hooshmand described as “humiliating” and “embarrassing”.
“The [senior crew member] completely overreacted and it can only be concluded that her actions were racially motivated,” Setareh said.
Setareh – who Hooshmand said was standing close by, waiting for her to join the rest of the family in boarding and saw the disagreement – denies there was any attack on a senior crew member. He said that following the initial dispute there was no further interaction between his family and Jetstar’s staff.
Their boarding passes were eventually returned by another crew member who allowed them to proceed to board; however, the senior crew member decided against it and told fellow crew that the family would not be allowed to fly.
Hooshmond asked why they were being sent off the flight and was told that she had “attacked” the senior crew member. Hooshmand rejected their removal from the flight on the grounds that she had to return to Coolangatta to attend to patients the next day and that she needed to feed her two children.
The pair said they sought further clarification from staff, who responded by calling the Australian Federal Police to the scene. Following their arrival, the AFP took the family to a Virgin Australia counter, where the family were booked on the next available flight to the Gold Coast.
Setareh, a lawyer, said there was no legal basis for their treatment at the hands of Jetstar and that the airline’s staff had no right to “harass” and “humiliate” his family.
In correspondence with Jetstar, Setarah said that he wanted an apology from the individual senior crew member; an explanation from the airline on the steps it’s taking to ensure other customers are protected from similar behaviours from crew; and confirmation that his family has not been flagged by the airline, following allegedly being threatened with blacklisting by Jetstar’s staff.
“It is mind boggling that your organisation tolerates its staff publicly humiliating its customers, without any consequences for the persons responsible,” Setareh said in a written submission to Jetstar CEO Gareth Evans.
“Jetstar could have easily rectified the situation. Instead, it has escalated this matter now and turned a good customer (frequent flyer) into one with a traumatic experience.”
Following the incident in March, both Hooshmond and Setareh contacted Jetstar to complain about their treatment by its staff. They were issued an apology by the airline and offered a $444.49 refund for their unused flights and $295.51 in accordance with the fare difference between the rebooked Virgin Australia flight. Jetstar also confirmed that Setarah and his family had not been blacklisted.
Jetstar later offered Setareh a $500 travel voucher, after he expressed his dissatisfaction with the offer, in addition to the previous amount and clarified that the sum was based specifically on the amount that Hooshmand had requested in her initial submission to Jetstar. The family has refused Jetstar’s offers to reimburse the flight.
In correspondence between the pair and a customer advocacy analyst from the airline, Jetstar denied either race or ethnicity played a factor in the family being refused permission to fly.
Following being contacted for comment, a Jetstar spokesperson told Travel Weekly that the airline has zero tolerance for anti-social behaviour at airports and on its aircraft:
“Our investigation found that the customers repeatedly refused to follow the instructions and were abusive towards our cabin crew when boarding, which was the reason why they were denied travel.
“We explained this to the customers at the time and also in our follow up discussions with them.
“The safety of our customers and crew is our number one priority,” a spokesperson from Jetstar told Travel Weekly.