Access-A-Hut's Blog

November 25, 2011

Open letter to south africa airlines

Filed under: Uncategorized — by accessahut @ 3:37 am
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I am a handicapped person travelling alone. Being abandoned and having to crawl on the floor in the New York Kennedy airport greatly overshadows the otherwise kind, efficient, and professional courtesy I received from South African Airlines. This problem could be completely eliminated if you would institute a handicapped passenger waiting area in New York (and other areas that do not have one), as you have done in Johannesberg. Could you band together with other airlines to help ensure that no one else has to crawl to get to a restroom or even their flight? Thank you.


While I can walk some, I have a condition where I dislocate joints very easily. I dislocated my right knee while going through security at Denver International Airport. Thus, I was already in pain starting out on my long journey from Denver, Colorado to Johannesberg, South Africa. When I got to New York, I had to go through security again. I explained my condition, but TSA staff there did not listen, and they promptly dislocated my right hip. Now I was basically incapable of walking at all. The wheelchair attendant, according to SA policy, left me at the empty gate 2 1/2 hours before my flight, with no wheelchair and no way to move from my seat. (Please note that I do realize that I need extra care and attention in security, and thus I deliberately booked enough time between flights.)

I was ok, until I had to go to the restroom desperately. I yelled over to a couple waiting in the next area. Luckily, they did not think I was insane, and they immediately went to find someone in charge. That person said that SA policy is to abandon disabled people at the gate, without a wheelchair or any way to move from their seat. However, they said that just in this one emergency, they would recall a wheelchair so I could go to the restroom.

I waited, in increasing agony and distress, for a half an hour, but no one showed up. My dilemma–do I soil the only clothes I have on the inside –and thus wallow in my misery and soil for a 15 hour flight–or do I make my clothes filthy on the outside by crawling on the ground to the restroom, which was only 200 feet away? Not willing to make other passengers suffer, I asked the couple to watch my bags and started crawling. As the floor tile was slick, I dislocated my right shoulder while moving my body one painful arm length at a time. I was half way there when the wheelchair attendant showed up–about an hour after my first frantic call for help. Now I was in the middle of the hallway, with no way to get into the chair. We grabbed a box and I hauled myself up, dislocating my right elbow in the process. Finally, success. I made it to the bathroom and the inside of my clothes were clean for the flight.

Thus, by the time I got to the Jo-berg flight, I had a dislocated knee, hip, shoulder, and elbow on my right side. This made the 15-hour flight almost unbearably painful.

However, Thulani Slamini and Emmanual Tryane of Swiss port (073-466-8515) met me at the Jo-berg airport. They saw how exhausted and how much pain I was in. They did not abandon me, but they stayed with me to make sure I actually got on the correct shuttle to the hotel. They made it possible for me to recover–without their help, I would have collapsed and been vulnerable to any kind of crime. Please thank them profusely and sincerely. They did note that they were not supposed to stay with someone that long. Please understand that their doing so may well have saved me from a prolonged hospital stay and indeed, may well have saved my life. They deserve a special commendation for their initiative and clear thinking–and their humanity.

Moreover, the next day I continued my journey to Port Elizabeth. Grace left her post and helped me to the handicapped waiting area, where I got help and I was able to wait for my flight in comfort and in close and accessible proximity to a restroom. Please thank her as well. (Grace, last name unknown, manning the premier class ticket line November 23, 2011 at 7:30 am).

Leaving someone abandoned at an airport gate may be your policy, but it is truly unconscionable. Please work with other airlines at other airports to institute a handicapped waiting room for ALL flights at all airports. Thus, we can check in electronically, the airlines know we are there, and we can meet basic human needs. You can even charge an extra fee for this–I’ll gladly pay it!

Deena Larsen

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