Families in remote regional areas are ramping up pressure on airlines and the federal government to take some of the sting out of the cost of flying their children to school.
The Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association (ICPA) has applauded Qantas and Regional Express (Rex) for introducing, or trialing, discount fares for children at boarding schools in some states, but wants more universal acceptance of the high cost of school travel for bush families nationwide.
“Inequities in student travel allowances offered by the federal government mean fare allowances are available under Abstudy and youth allowance schemes, yet no provision for travel in the Assistance for Isolated Children scheme,” said ICPA federal council travel portfolio leader, Di Skene, Brookstead Queensland.
It was also unfair that airline fare discounts weren’t offered to all isolated students.
She noted the high impact of airfares on bush families had partly prompted the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee to begin an inquiry into the operation and funding of air services to regional communities late last year.
ICPA’s submission to the Senate inquiry highlighted the social and economic costs, dependability issues and inadequate rural air services impacted many rural families, particularly in relation to travel to and from boarding school, student camps and other learning opportunities.
Inequities in Commonwealth student travel allowances rated as a major frustration.
ICPA’s Mt Isa branch of the air delegates told the association’s federal conference it was only fair isolated students having to live away from home for compulsory schooling should have a fares allowance comparable with those receiving other Commonwealth support assistance.
ICPA’s South Australian state council noted flying was often the most realistic form of transport for children at boarding school, given they could otherwise spend two days travelling when allowed home on a weekend exeat.
Regional air services in SA did not have the benefit of the “bush to boarding” style discounts offered by Rex (or other airlines).
Rex offers discounts for students in Queensland travelling to Cairns, Brisbane, Mt Isa and Toowoomba.
Qantas has trialled 30 per cent discounts for boarding school students in Queensland and Western Australia.
The ICPA federal council hopes to work more closely with Rex, providing details of where other students were likely to travel to and from, as the airline has agreed to consider expanding its “bush to boarding” offer.
Meanwhile WA state council is urging Qantas to extend its discount fare trial, and recognise students travelling home or back to school may not always depart from the airport nearest their home or school, particularly returning from or joining school trips, which means they are currently excluded from any discount offer.
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