The treatment of Paralympian bronze medallist Tyrone Pillay on the wrong end of a highly charged incident at OR Tambo International Airport is another pointer to the general bankruptcy, both financial and in lacking sensitivity and knowledge of its own procedures, manifested by our troubled national carrier, South African Airways.
Pillay, who earned this country a bronze medal in the T42 shot put for single above the knee amputees, at the recently concluded Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, went ballistic on social media, claiming he had been refused the right to board a connection from Johannesburg to Durban at his home in Reservoir Hills because of his prosthetic leg.
SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali confirmed the embarrassing public relations fiasco in an apology to Pillay and acknowledged there was provision for “passenger assistive devices” to be carried into the cabin.
Pillay, who had been part of the hero’s welcome accorded the returning South African Paralympians at OR Tambo, tweeted: “Can’t believe I got treated like this after winning a medal for our country. Totally disrespectful.”
This – not to put too fine a point on it – is something of an understatement, especially as the airline had made much of its backing of Team SA at the Paralympics.
You have to wonder how a lower-profile passenger might have fared given similar circumstances.
Pillay, whose family had flown up from KwaZulu-Natal to join him in the triumphal homecoming, has every right to feel deeply humiliated.
Tlali, who also admitted that the air crew had apologised for a misguided piece of bureaucracy that should never have been allowed to happen, piled further insensitivity on the debacle by adding: “We are disappointed that Mr Pillay’s otherwise pleasant customer experience was spoilt on the last leg of his journey back home.”