Up, Up and Away!

With the constant upgrades and changes within the airports structures, I decided to look at the check-in procedures for domestic airlines. We were unable to interview every airline in time for the magazine deadline, so the rest will have to be covered in future articles.

Mango, SA Airlink and 1 Time use various handlers to assist at check-in (BidAir, Menzies and Swissport) and these staff may not always be up to speed on an airline’s policy.

All airlines request that passengers in need of assistance make contact after booking their flight (in order that the relevant information be included with the booking) and then confirm their services booked before the actual day of departure.

Airlines limit the number of persons requiring assistance per flight as they have to have sufficient staff to cover their needs. If you travel with an assistant, this alleviates that, but you still need to let them know that you will be travelling so that Passenger Aid Units (PAU’s) and wheelchairs can be organised. If you book over the internet call the airline immediately with the reference number and ask for assistance for the flight, otherwise you may be bumped off the flight.   Well before your date of travel make sure that your booking confirms the services required, and try to get that in writing to take along to the airport.

A Glossary of Definitions

A Medically Compromised traveller is a person who is physically or mentally compromised due to illness, injury, congenital malfunction or other temporary or permanent incapacity or disability, who cannot assist themselves and, though not likely to require medical care, needs to be accompanied by a person to provide care during the flight and to assist in any emergency flight procedures. They are classified either as Disabled Guests or Medical Guests:

DISABLED GUESTS include travellers with permanent but stable disabilities. They include, but are not limited to: requiring a wheelchair; blind/vision impaired; deaf/hearing impaired; elderly; mentally challenged, diabetic with no complications; multiple sclerosis; pregnant; young; infants; paraplegics; quadriplegics; disabled by polio and oversize guests.

MEDICAL GUESTS require clearance to travel and this includes, but is not limited to: high blood pressure; requiring oxygen; brain, spine and nervous system related ailments; serious heart ailments; lung and airway diseases; Huntington’s Korea (no muscle control); internal organ ailment eg. Cancer/ulcers; all recent fractures (< 3 weeks); orthopaedic and skeletal defects; diabetics with complications; mentally challenged guests.

GUESTS REQUIRING WHEELCHAIRS must clearly indicate their wheelchair requirements when making the booking:

WCH R – (Wheelchair across ramp/runway only). The guest can ascend or descend the steps and can make their own way to and from the cabin seat but require a wheelchair to and from the aircraft across the tarmac.

WCH S – (Wheelchair to top of aircraft steps). The guest must be assisted up and down the stairs but can make their own way to and from the cabin seat. 

WCH C – (Wheelchair to cabin seat) the guest is completely immobile and needs to be wheeled or carried up and down the aircraft steps and to and from the cabin seat. Such guests must be accompanied by an able-bodied person at all times who must be seated close to the WCHC guest.


Mango have a comprehensive policy, and have tried to keep in line with international standards. Disabled Guests do not require medical clearance from their doctor to travel, but MUST indicate their disability when making a booking. Disabled Guests must report to check-in counters at least sixty minutes prior to departure and may NEVER be seated in emergency rows.

The onus is on the Medical Guest to submit the Mango medical form to the Mango Medical Reservations Dept for confirmation and/or clearance before they will confirm travel. This certificate, with the required approval, MUST be presented when travelling. Failure to do so will result in the Guest being refused carriage. Medical Guests may never be seated in emergency rows and must report to check-in counters at least sixty minutes prior to departure.

Guests who require a wheelchair only for in the airport, or for embarking and disembarking, do not need medical clearance but MUST indicate their wheelchair needs when making the booking. Mango reserves the right to refuse wheelchair services if not requested during the booking process.

Service providers are responsible for wheelchair movement from check-in to aircraft doors. Guests are collected by a 3rd party service provider from the check-in area and taken to the boarding area. They pre-board the Guests and should never leave Wheelchair Guests alone. Staff will also brief you on the boarding process and various in-flight amenities.

Service providers must adhere to internal policies regarding Wheelchair Guests and be trained to handle needs. Guests using their own wheelchairs must remain in them until they are boarded. Their wheelchair will then be loaded into the hold of the aircraft. If the aircraft is parked off-stand, a PAU will be used for boarding.

Where chutes are utilized, Guests may be wheeled on board and then transferred to the ‘Skychair’. This eliminates the need for a PAU.

In the event that it is impossible to position a PAU against the aircraft, and where chutes are not utilised (ie Bloemfontein) Guests will be boarded utilising an IBEX chair. Suitably trained Mango, or service provider staff, will lift the Guest, secured in the IBEX chair, up the steps and into the aircraft. 

Occupied IBEX chairs must be manoeuvred up, or down, the steps by at least three assistants who ensure that the Guest is securely strapped in. It takes approximately five minutes to board each wheelchair Guest.

Mango does not charge for carrying personal wheelchairs or mobility units BUT no wheelchair or mobility unit over 32kg will be carried. These must be shipped via couriers/cargo operators. Personal wheelchairs or mobility units will not be carried in the aircraft cabin.

Guests travelling with powered wheelchairs or powered mobility units:

  • Must identify their battery as either spillable or non-spillable. Non-spillable batteries can withstand vibrations and pressures as detailed in the Packing Instruction 806 (Dangerous Goods Manual) without leakage.
  • Chairs/units with non-spillable batteries can be checked in as checked baggage provided that the battery is disconnected, that battery terminals are insulated (to prevent short circuits) and that the battery is securely attached to the wheelchair or mobility aid.
  • Chairs/units with spillable batteries may only be checked in as checked baggage if the battery is removed.

Wheelchair Guests are allowed to request assistance from Mango staff in order to disconnect batteries.

Mango limits the number of WCHR, WCHS or WCHC (or any combinations thereof) on any one flight, to three. WCHC guests are seated (in order of priority) in rows 1 E, F, B, or A, but assistants in rows 1 C & D.


According to Mike, Station Manager, 1 Time Airlines, ORTIA: “We are very sensitive to the needs of passengers requiring Special Needs and I am yet to come across a case that we have not been able to handle. They are always in very capable hands from the dedicated staff here at 1 Time Airline.”

The standard check in procedure for people using wheelchairs is to alert the Customer Services Agent - at the time of making a reservation - that a PAU will be required as well as the type of wheelchair being used. The extent of disability must be disclosed at the time of making the reservation.

Batteries are disconnected by 1 Time engineers, at the aircraft, and will be separated from the wheelchair. They will be re-attached by 1 Time staff upon arrival.

A LOFO (Last On First Off) tag will be issued when the wheelchair arrives at the aircraft for boarding.

Seating depends on the destination as the availability of equipment varies from station to station. Passengers requiring assistance will usually be seated towards the back of the aircraft.

Check-in counters open two hours before for domestic flights, and it is suggested that passengers requiring assistance check-in early.

Checked baggage is limited to 20 kg, plus one piece of hand luggage, limited to 5 kg, provided that the hand luggage fits into the aircraft overhead bins.

Any excess baggage will be charged at R20 per additional kilogram for domestic travel.


In addition to the checked baggage allowance, hand luggage smaller than 52x40x23cm and weighing less than 8kgs is allowed. The item shall not exceed an overall dimension of 115cm.

Passengers with a disability may also transport the following items free of charge even if carried in the hold:

  • 1 wheelchair (only in the hold)
  • 1 pair of crutches or braces
  • 1 small dialysis machine for self-use (in aircraft hold)
  • 1 other orthopaedic device
  • Prosthetic devices if required
  • Laptop PC (not to be activated without permission from the crew)
  • Mobile phone (not to be utilized during flight).

Excess baggage fees will not be charged for the carriage (in the hold) of non-collapsible wheelchairs and power wheelchairs may be accepted provided that the passenger is dependent on it.

The following equipment may be used on board their aircraft without restriction: heart pacemakers; hearing aids; clocks, watches and timers; and medical equipment approved for use in an aircraft.

If you have any queries as to check-in procedures or require assistance with putting your special requests into a booking, please contact the airlines directly or send your queries to me and I will try to assist. ACSA also has their Customer Care Line if you have any problems when booking in. They come to you! Call 011-921-6262 at ORTIA.

In the meantime: happy and hassle-free travels.

Columnist Photos