I love flying! Whilst most people would choose the shortest possible route to get from Melbourne to Harare, I will choose the longest route because that’s how much I love flying. I think I was a pilot in my previous life cause that’s the only explanation I have for my love of flying. It might have to do with a little childhood dream which I am even embarrassed to share. When I was a little girl I wanted to be a flight attendant. There was something so cool about flight attendants that I was drawn to.
Whilst I am on the subject of childhood dreams, the fact that I as a little disabled girl had a dream to be a flight attendant shows what kind of environment I was raised in ie an environment where I was encouraged to dream even though I could never in any way become a flight attendant.
I recently read the heart breaking story of a man with cerebral palsy who had to crawl off a United Airlines plane. The story goes that he had to wait 15 minutes for all the other passengers to disembark the plane then he had to wait another 15 minutes for a wheelchair to come. During the time he was waiting he had to use the toilet and because there was no wheelchair in sight, he had to crawl to the cabin door. This story broke my heart and reminded me of my own experiences.
Yes I love flying but I’ll be honest flying with a disability is HELL to say the very least.
- In most airlines the cabin space is so small, I can’t stretch my legs and because of this, my legs become so numb during the flight that I have to keep getting up to stretch and if I am seated in the middle instant NIGHTMARE!
- The toilets on planes are not disability friendly at all.
- There is no designated seating for people with disabilities like on trains or buses. To some people that might seem like nothing but to a person with a disability that’s the difference between travelling in comfort or not.
- If you request for wheelchair assistance, you are the first one to board the plane BUT the very last one to disembark and if the ground staff forget you then well you are pretty much screwed, the flight crew will become very impatient but they can’t leave you there.
- You have to put up with some really crappy attitudes from ground staff when they assist you.
- You are made to feel like you are bothering people if you are not seated on the aisle seat and keep asking to get out.
- Sometimes the flight crew will move you to a very bad seat because there are certain strategic seats where people will disabilities cannot seat in case of an emergency.
I’ve had a few bad flying experiences but in all cases, it has always been with Harare and Johannesburg airport ground staff and I can’t help but wonder if that’s a reflection of both countries’ attitudes towards people with disabilities?
Bad Experience 1
Back in September 2010, I travelled to Melbourne from Harare through Johannesburg. OMG I will never forget that experience. I was in transit in Johannesburg for what felt like an eternity. It must have been close to 7 or 8 hours. I had requested for wheelchair assistance so that meant when I was in transit, I had people to look after me pretty much baby sit me. Those people were so rude. They wouldn’t let me get up and walk around when I was feeling tired of sitting down, even going to the toilet was a problem. The worst part was when it was time to go to the boarding gate, the person who had been assigned to me was nowhere to be found. Eventually he turned up and asked me to pay him first because “I was rich since I was going to Australia.” I was so enraged. I could not believe it. I demanded to speak to his supervisor there and then, it’s only after that did he agree to push me to the boarding gate.
Bad Experience 2
It was on the journey back of the above experience in October 2010 when I landed at Harare international airport and got the shock of my life. Again because I had requested for wheelchair assistance, it meant I would receive the same treatment on the journey back. We land at the airport and I kid you not it took more than 30 minutes for a wheelchair to come, not only that there was two of us who needed a wheelchair and only one came. Of course they gave the wheelchair to the older white woman and I was forced to walk in the rain at night with no umbrella. I was so tired, I didn’t even have time to ask why there was only one wheelchair.
Bad Experience 3
This experience again took place at Harare airport. I was coming back to Melbourne in Feb 2012 and had specifically requested for wheelchair assistance. The wheelchair came, yes I thought well done staff one gold star for you. Then the guy just left me at the boarding gate. People started boarding the plane and because I had requested for wheelchair assistance I begun to panic when this man went awol on me. I could have easily walked onto the plane myself but I had two bags which I could not carry on my own and needed assistance. I panicked big time. Eventually he turned up no apology nothing but I am glad he pushed me to the plane and got on safe and sound.
It is my heart desires that something be done globally to ensure that people with disabilities fly comfortably.
Even though flying with a disability is a nightmare, I am dreaming of my next flight whenever that is because that is how much I love flying.