Travelling With A Disability.

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?

At Harare International Airport Feb 2012...Oh boy am I glad I have lost a ton of weight...LOL
At Harare International Airport Feb 2012…Oh boy am I glad I have lost a ton of weight…LOL

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.


11 thoughts on “Travelling With A Disability.”

  1. I am really sorry about your experiences. I have to say though, I have only ever flown between Harare, Jo’burg and Cape Town with wheelchair assistance and the service has been impressive. The staff have always been polite and pleasantly chatty. I guess it takes a few bad apples to ruin the bag doesn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Olga thank you for reading. Yes I have such bad experiences that I have vowed NEVER to travel with SAA on long haul flights, the treatment is just horrible. It seems so far I am the only who has had bad experiences, my other friend has nothing but praises for staff at Harare airport. I guess I am the unlucky one. Thank you for reading. 🙂


  2. I am in utter shock!! WHY WOULD ANYONE DO THAT?? Ask for money because you are traveling to Australia?? What has the world come to? I am too shocked to say anything more but I am seriously disappointment with human kind.

    And as for walking in the rain, I’m sorry dear. I hope you filed a complaint but then again we all know nothing would materialise from it.

    I am happy to note that your parents encouraged you to believe that all things are possible as long as you put your mind to it. More children in the world need to grow up with this kind of thinking so that they know that they are capable of being the best ever!

    Great post Colleen and I hope something will be done with regards to making life more comfortable when travelling for people with disabilities.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ehe hake sha he nyatso asked for money, money to do his ob imagine that? As for the walking in the rain, we had landed at 930pm, I was so tired I had no time to argue with anyone, I just walked hangu. Shaaa when I think of my parents and my siblings ka, I just cry they are unconditional love personified. Thank you for reading hun ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Coleen this is heartbreaking especially that all your bad experiences seemed to happen at home (on the African soil), what type of people ask for money to assist another person as if they are not African and do not know the spirit of ubuntu. As for them giving the wheel chair to the older woman i am not surprised, it usually goes like that in Africa…wishing you more pleasant travels and many hugs

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you hun for reading. And yes it’s really unfortunate that all my bad travelling experiences has been back home but I hope the next time I travel back to the motherland, it wouldn’t be a bad experience. As for giving the wheelchair to the older lady, my issue was there should have been another wheelchair but oh well such is life hey.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Colleen, it breaks my heart to read about your experiences right on African soil. I hope with time planes will be designed with provisions for people with any form of disability. Please avoid the Joburg route when next you are travelling as there is no point laying over for 7 hours plus doing nothing. There should be shorter and better routes for travelling.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I certainly hope so too or at least airlines should have some special consideration for people with disabilities to be bumped up to business class for us to travel in comfort. Oh believe me I will NEVER fly the Joburg route ever again. I learnt my lesson the last I did. Thank you for reading and for your kind words.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Very powerful experiences and it is terrible having to go through that. People can be so cruel but I’m very grateful to you for sharing this because I take a lot for granted.

    Liked by 1 person

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