It has been four months since I had hernia surgery.
With strict instructions from my surgeon not to lift anything heavy or participate in any strenuous activities, I worried that a simple trip to the airport would be challenging to handle. On my way to the airport, my mind pondered every part of the flight journey.
“Clinton, how are you going to lift your bag from the car?” I asked aloud while the presenter read the latest bulletin on the radio.
The questions flooded my mind until I parked my car at King Shaka International Airport.
After a long search for someone to assist me, I found a security guard who helped lift my suitcase from the back of my car on to the ground. I tipped him and he was on his way.
I thought I would handle the rest of the journey. I couldn’t have been more wrong. What would have taken a 5-minute walk to the main building took half an hour (thankfully, I arrived two hours before my flight).
As I navigated my way through the car park, lugged my suitcase uphill, I took breaks to catch my breath, trying not to exert myself.
Finding it all overwhelming, I asked the security guard to request someone from the airline to assist me with my luggage. Soon, a petite woman in her airline uniform helped me lug my suitcase to the check-in counter. The staff on the aircraft stowed my laptop bag in the overhead compartment and retrieved it when we landed.
Another staff member retrieved my bag from the baggage carousel at the landing airport. This process is called special assistance.
It helps people with hearing, visual, physical and psychological disabilities, children travelling alone, or the elderly navigate the airport safely with an airline staff.
The passenger is assisted through every process, from check-in, boarding, and luggage retrieval, depending on their individual needs. Passengers can request the free service via the airline.
According to Airports Company South Africa, South Africa subscribes to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Operational Protocol.
"Airports Company of South Africa is committed to ensuring that mobility-impaired travellers enjoy easy access to all services and facilities.
"Facilities at all airports in South Africa are compliant with minimum standards required by disabled travellers. Besides travelators and gentle gradient ramps, airports offer dedicated passenger lifts to all levels and wheelchair access to shops, restaurants and viewing areas," the company stated on its website.
How you can request special assistance from your South African airline:
Passengers with special medical needs, including those requiring wheelchair assistance, can contact the Airlink Revenue Control office on 011 451 7300 or 011 451 7350.
If you book your ticket by phone, internet or a travel agent, alert the agent about any special needs before your booking is complete. Book wheelchair and medical assistance from Monday to Friday from 7.30am to 5 pm. Alert the airline no later than three business days before your flight.
For weekend and Monday flights, the cut-off for special assistance requests is 3pm on Friday before the passenger’s flight.
Request a wheelchair or any special assistance directly after booking your flight. You can do so via online request, which can take up to 48 hours to be confirmed, or via the call centre on 0861 585 852 on Monday to Sunday from 7am to 7pm.
Kulula.com states that if they reach the safety quota for special assistance on a passenger’s booked flight, the airline will change the flight to ensure compliance with the Comair Limited required safety regulations. Kulula doesn’t offer a service for unaccompanied minors on its flights.
Infants and children must be accompanied by an adult aged 16 or older.
Similar to Kulula.com, travellers need to alert the airline about special assistance immediately after booking. Log in to your booking to let the airline know what type of assistance you need. In your booking, go to “quick links” and select “disability and mobility assistance”.
Request this 48 hours before your flight.
Passengers must include special requests when booking their flights at least 48 hours before their flight.
“Failure to advise of special needs requirements at the time of booking may result in the service being unavailable on your arrival at the airport and may even result in you having your boarding denied. This service is limited to a certain number of individuals per aircraft.
This complies with civil aviation regulations, which limit the number of vulnerable passengers that a carrier may carry per crew member aboard the aircraft,” the airline warned.
Mango passengers can fill a special medical needs request form at www.flymango.com/upload/Medical%20and%20Special%20Needs%20Request%20form.pdf
Passengers must request special assistance 48 hours before departure via its Customer Support Desk on [email protected]