Checking in!

Taking an international flight is exciting, but it comes with its own specific rules and procedures. Here’s what to do before you set off.

Fresh from my own trip to Europe and the UK, I thought it would be useful to explain the check-in procedures for international flights. Here are some tips that I hope will make the first part of your journey as easy as possible.

Every airline requests that travellers requiring assistance contact the airline after making the flight reservation, so that the relevant information can be added into the booking and the various services booked and confirmed before the day of departure. If you are using the Internet to make your booking, look for a check box that lets you inform the airline that you require assistance. There may be forms to be completed or further information required. Ensure that you have confirmation in writing from the airline that they have received your request for assistance, and keep that confirmation in writing with you.

Step 1

At home, weigh your suitcase to make sure that it doesn’t exceed the limit for checked-in baggage. This limit varies from airline to airline and from class to class. Check on the airport website what the limit is. The website will also alert passengers if the flight has been delayed. Ensure that you have all your travel documents, passport and valid visa with you.

Step 2

Be sure to arrive at the airport at least three hours before the scheduled departure time. On arrival you may decide to have your check-in luggage plastic-wrapped. (This helps prevent damage as well as theft.) Find out from the terminal screens which is the correct check-in counter for the airline you are using. Your luggage will be weighed at the counter.

Note: luggage heavier than the limit will be charged per kilo and these charges are extremely expensive. It is better to check in unaccompanied luggage before the flight as the costs are less. Also know the weight limit of your hand luggage, as well as how many pieces of luggage you are permitted to take on board with you. All liquids taken on board must be placed into a clear plastic pack and should each be no more than 100 ml. Remember that “liquids” includes perfumes, eyeliner and hand-sanitiser gel. Insist that you receive an extra baggage tag for any mobility device that you have, so that it doesn’t get lost. Passengers using their own wheelchairs must remain in them until they are boarded by PAU/ground personnel into the aircraft. The wheelchair will then be loaded into the hold of the aircraft.

Step 3

Once you have your boarding pass, the person checking you in will call the assistive staff member to take you through the security check point. You’ll place your carry-on bag on the conveyor belt for a security scan and then place all of your loose items – jacket, phone, camera, wallet, keys and any other items – into a plastic tray for scanning. If you’re using your own mobility aid, you will be taken through an entry point next to the scanner and body-searched by a security person. You may be asked to take off your shoes for testing, and your wheelchair may be swabbed. Once cleared you will be allowed to collect your belongings and proceed to customs. You will go through the Crew and Assistive Passenger queue. Have your passport and boarding pass ready.

Step 4

You will then be taken to a special area to be checked in with the assistive staff. Please note that new rules have come into effect specifying that if you require assistance, and want to do any shopping or banking within the duty-free area, the assistive staff must accompany you at all times. Check the limits on duty-free items that are allowed into the country that you are travelling to – it will be very disappointing to have your duty-free purchases of alcohol, cigarettes or meat products confiscated at your destination! Allow time to visit the bathroom before boarding. In larger airports your boarding gate may be a long way from where you are situated; there are usually overhead signs that will tell you how long it takes to get to the various gates.

Step 5

At the appropriate time the assistive staff member will take you to the boarding gate or PAU so you can board your flight.

Happy Travels!


Mandy Latimore is a consultant in the disability sector in the fields of travel and access. email: mandy@noveltravel.co.za

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