What To Expect When Travelling in South Africa's airports

Cartoons by Robert Crisp

Your flight is booked and you are packed and ready to travel for the airport, what assistance can you reasonably expect from the curb to the aircraft seat? There are three companies that are contracted by airlines to provide services for assisted passengers. These three companies are Swissport, BidAir and Menzies who, in turn employ support staff to ensure that the traveller has a seamless transition onto and off aircraft to and from their destination. QASA is occasionally contracted to train these staff members at various airports around South Africa and through constant interaction with these three companies have set out certain objectives.

The assistive staff is employed as support services in order to achieve equitable service and transition for passengers with special needs. Those who work on the apron should be reasonably robust in order to effectively and safely, with dignity, transfer passengers with mobility impairments. Most importantly, the staff should like dealing and interacting with people, as they will be spending considerably more time with a passenger than any other staff member within the airport precinct.

With this combination and reasonable training, passengers should have a positive experience getting to their seats and this is what can be expected:

  • Passengers should be greeted in the appropriate manner.
  • The assistive staff will introduce themselves and enquire how they may be of assistance.
  • Passengers will be escorted through the various areas and security checks, with each area being explained. A “Walk & Talk” approach is taught in order to reduce stress levels.
  • At the aircraft door (either in the Passenger Aid Unit (PAU) or skywalk) sufficient techniques will be employed to effect safe transfers from the passenger’s mobility aid into the narrow wheelchair for transport down the aisle to the seat and again at the seat. The FIA Policy is to board passengers requiring assistance first in order to give the staff space within the cabin, but with local flights the turn-around time for the plane is quite limited, and there are very strict Fire Regulations, which prohibit passengers requiring assistance to be on the plane during re-fuelling. SO ... you may arrive at the plane first and be boarded last! Please note that the Captain of the flight has the final say as to what happens within the plane at all times.
  • Orientation of facilities is given once in the seat, and correct stowage of hand luggage and cushions.
  • Safe handling of personal mobility aids especially power wheelchairs. Please ensure that if you have a Wet Cell Battery (those with removable plugs to top up the battery) that you have the compliant Battery Box as these liquids are considered Dangerous Goods. The modern batteries are mostly Dry Cell or sealed units.
  • On dis-embarkation into the PAU, bottled water should be offered.
  • Luggage collection and handling – Should a passenger be travelling alone, and have checked-in luggage as well as hand luggage and a mobility aid, only one assistive staff member will not be able to manage all items, so they should enquire as soon as they meet the passenger as to how much luggage there is in order to arrange for a second person to assist.

Some other pointers for passengers requiring assistance to remember:

  • Confirm assistance required once the reservation has been confirmed.
  • Check in at least 90 minutes before Domestic and 3 hours before International flights.
  • Always keep your own boarding pass, as the staff member may have to leave you and you will not get onto the plane without it.
  • Allow sufficient time to visit the WC prior to boarding.
  • Never leave your luggage or hand luggage unattended or in the care of anyone other than yourself.
  • Engage with the staff members who are assisting you to let them know your needs and requirements.
  • Should you have a negative experience, please contact the company and report this. It is the only way they can manage their service excellence levels.

Happy Safe Travels

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