Picture: THE TIMES
Picture: THE TIMES

South African Airways (SAA) is to review its seatbelt extension procedures after one passenger’s humiliation when an aircraft had to "return to ramp" because it had failed to provide her with a suitable belt.

When Pretoria-based Kabelo Seitei‚ a frequent flyer‚ boarded a flight in Cape Town in August 2016‚ she asked the cabin controller for a seatbelt extension and was told one would be brought to her.

When that had not happened by the time the aircraft started to taxi to the runway‚ she alerted the cabin attendant and the aircraft turned back. It is a requirement of the South African Civil Aviation Authority that every passenger be secured for take-off and landing.

After a half-hour wait‚ an attendant clutching a bright orange extension strode down the aisle‚ stopping at row 28 to fasten it around Seitei.

And then came an announcement which Seitei‚ an English moderator with the Department of Education‚ remembered as: "We are dealing with some obese cases on board and therefore had to go back to find extension belts‚ we don’t usually need them on this flight out of Cape Town…."

The airline’s customer care department failed to investigate Seitei’s e-mailed complaint at the time‚ and she got no response when she re-sent that e-mail in January.

Responding to TimesLIVE’s query last week‚ SAA’s head of media relations‚ Tlali Tlali‚ said the airline’s policy was to have two seatbelt extensions on board "narrow-bodied" aircraft such as the Airbus in question‚ and five on "wide-bodied" aircraft.

"Prior to aircraft doors closing‚ should the crew identify that additional extension seat belts are required for the flight‚ they can be requested‚" he said.

The two extensions on board that flight were given to other passengers‚ but "there was oversight" on the crew’s part with respect to Seitei’s request‚ Tlali said.

Her experience called for a review of SAA’s pre-departure procedures "to improve overall travel experience and the efficiencies of our operations", Tlali said.

Asked if the airline would consider asking passengers to indicate when making a booking whether they required a seatbelt extension‚ he said: "We are looking at the viability of different options to ensure required compliance levels. Your suggestion is but one option."

Given that SA has one of the highest obesity rates in the world‚ other airlines were asked how they catered for passengers who did not fit into standard seatbelts‚ whether they had ever not had enough to meet the demand on a flight‚ and whether they would consider asking passengers to indicate when making a booking if they required a seatbelt extension.

Here is how they responded:

Comair (British Airways and Kulula):

"Each aircraft carries 10 extension seatbelts. Yes‚ we have run out. When this happens we note the passenger’s seat number and notify the ramp controller who arranges for more extension belts to be brought to the aircraft. This is all done behind the scenes and before the aircraft doors close‚ to avoid any embarrassment on the customer’s behalf," Comair customer relations spokesperson Natashia Schoeman said

"We don’t ask customers to declare their need for an extension belt when booking as this would be discriminating to them."

FlySafair:

"We keep five extensions and 20 infant loops on each aircraft‚ and the latter can be adapted for use as extensions. We’ve never had to use them all," head of sales and distribution Kirby Gordon said..

"If we did see the demand for these extensions increase‚ we would probably stock more on board before asking on the website‚ as people are sometimes a little shy about these things‚ or perhaps aren’t sure if the standard belt will get around them."

Mango Airlines:

"Our on-board standard equipment includes more than enough seat extension belts in every aircraft. We have never had a problem in providing the extenders because we didn’t have enough," said Pumla Luhabe‚ GM of commercial.

TMG Digital/TimesLIVE

Please login or register to comment.