Tell them about it!

George Louw
By George Louw
6 Min Read

Often, just by speaking up, you can help others to give you better service and care.

In a recent meeting where we were setting the terms for a partnership agreement between QASA and British Airways (operated by Comair Limited), the conversation turned to the Civil Aviation regulations on carrying persons with disabilities. These highlight the fact that carrying persons with disabilities requires special precautions and brings added responsibilities for the airline. Our new partner had just donated R250 000 worth of airline tickets to QASA; thus encouraging persons with disabilities to fly with their airline. This got me thinking. We take flying as a right but what are the implications? Surely there must be logistic burdens; added responsibilities; realistic resource constraints?

With these questions in mind, I found myself across a table from Tracey McCreadie, Service Delivery Manager for Comair.

I asked her: “Why do you carry passengers with disabilities? What are the positives for you?”

Tracey chose her words carefully: “Our basic philosophy regarding any of our passengers is that they are our precious cargo and we view every one of our passengers as an individual, whether a businessman, a small child or a person with a disability. However, we do realise that people with disabilities have specific needs and we have to cater for those.”

I smiled to myself. “Precious cargo.” Nice marketing spin… but I let it slide.

We moved on to the logistical challenges; the availability of Bidair staff to take passengers to the passenger assist units (PAUs), coordinating transfers by PAU to the aircraft, and the challenges of transferring very large immobile passengers from their wheelchairs to their seats. It was all interesting but not great material for an article…

And then Tracey made a statement that brought everything into perspective:

“Of course the main challenge that we have is that we don’t know what the passenger’s need is.”

There was the case of a frequent flyer who was an impossible passenger. Nothing was ever right and his temper tantrums were spectacular. Needless to say, he was not popular with the cabin crew – until they found out that he had an extreme fear of flying. With this knowledge the crew started making an effort to help him manage his fear; they warned him beforehand if turbulence was expected, they tried to arrange seating that made him feel less claustrophobic, and so on. He never lost his fear of flying but with the crew helping him, his anger disappeared and the flights became more manageable.

In another incident a quadriplegic patient had just been transferred from the slipper chair and settled into his seat when the hostess noticed that he looked distraught. It turned out that during the transfer his catheter had slipped out. Although the hostess had no training in this, the passenger talked her through the process and she was able to reinsert the catheter.

In both events the message is: “We want to help but we must know what your needs are. Not being disabled ourselves, we have no idea what you are going through and what we can do to help you.”

So, if we want our air travel experience to be great, we need to team up with the airline crew. We need to tell them what we need, before we fly as well as in-flight. And if we had a bad experience on a flight, we need to tell them about it so that they can fix it.

Comair Limited has call centres for both their airline brands; British Airways (operated by Comair Limited) and kulula.com, whose contact agents will direct you to the Special Services Requirements team, where you can specify your needs beforehand and they will do their utmost to help. If it is a suddenly arranged flight, phone in on the way to the airport; they will do their best to help.

What else can we do? The airline has only one request; make sure that you arrive at the airport in good time – 60 minutes before take-off for local flights and 90 minutes before for regional flights into Africa or to Mauritius. My experience has been that if you are flying during peak times, come about 15 minutes earlier than those required times. British Airways (operated by Comair) will always try to board special needs passengers first so that we are settled in and comfortable (and with our catheters in place) before the other passengers board.

So Tracey’s introductory comments were not a marketing spin after all. We truly are British Airways’s precious cargo.


Ida’s Corner is a regular column by George Louw, who qualified as a medical doctor, but, due to a progressing spastic paralysis, he chose a career in health administration. The column is named after Ida Hlongwa, who worked as caregiver for Ari Seirlis for 20 years. Her charm, smile, commitment, quality care and sacrifice set the bar incredibly high for the caregiving fraternity.
email: georgelou@medscheme.co.za

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George Louw
By George Louw Health Administration
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Ida’s Corner is a regular column by George Louw, who qualified as a medical doctor, but, due to a progressing spastic paralysis, chose a career in health administration. The column is named after Ida Hlongwa, who worked as caregiver for Ari Seirlis for 20 years. Her charm, smile, commitment, quality care and sacrifice set the bar incredibly high for the caregiving fraternity. email: yorslo@icloud.com
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