SAA (South African Airways) San Jose, CA California Review

I was looking to fly to China from Cape Town, South Africa. So, I approached a travel agent Elizna Meyer at Flight Centre in Somerset West, Cape Province. I informed her that I wished to fly either Emirates or Qatar airlines as they have always treated me very well from past experiences. The agent ignored me and booked a flight on SAA even after I had stated that I did not wish to fly SAA because of past bad experiences (Lost luggage frequently – twice in my experience with SAA. Bad service even on long haul first class travel on SAA). Elizna insisted that it was no longer a bad airline and the flight time would be shorter. I relented and decided to give SAA another chance. Boy, am I sorry I did! Here are the facts: 1. I was asked to lighten my carry on bag at Cape Town international airport, even though others’ bags weighed much more than mine. I informed the gate agent that it was my jacket which weighed at least 1.2 kilograms and that I would later be wearing it. He refused to accede to my request, so I removed it and proved to him that it was the jacket, after which he allowed me to take the bag as a carry on. In the process, I removed some shirts, t-shirts and forgot my ankle guard which I paid R200 ($20) for just the day before, as I had sprained my ankle very seriously. 2. After I landed in Johannesburg, there was a gate agent, whom I asked to direct me to the right gate. Sometimes, the gate number is on the ticket and it happens to be switched. Anyway, the reason I asked that agent, is that I could not read the numbers without my glasses, and did not want to remove them from my luggage – I suffer from restrictive ling disease and was out of breath, in addition to the excruciating pain from my sprained ankle. The agent saw I was limping but offered no assistance whatsoever. The gate was not too far so I decided to walk there slowly as there was plenty of time (3 hours). So, I went to gate A7 immediately as instructed. I waited there until 16H45 and wondered why boarding was not taking place. There were quite a few people there. I also wanted to complain about the way I was harassed in Cape Town, and the fact that I no longer had my ankle guard. The SAA gate agent at gate A7 looked at my ticket, and informed me that I had no time to go and fill out a complaint. To my dismay, she informed me that the flight was just about to close at gate A5. She told me to run there and I stated that I could not carry the bigger carry on bag because I was out of breath and so she asked another gate agent to go with me. On arrival at gate A5, I saw the doors closed, but the plane had not departed. I got there at 16H55. The flight was only scheduled to leave 10 minutes later I think. Anyway, the gate agent who carried my bag, ran down the jetway and asked if they could let me on board as I had no luggage to be checked in. They refused. Oddly enough, they didn’t even bother announcing the flight was boarding or about to close, or even have the courtesy to call me over the intercom as I heard them doing earlier with others. The aircraft engines had not even been switched on yet. 3. I was in great distress as I went to speak to the first agent – Martha Musobi. She did not appear to believe anything I told her and kept rephrasing the same questions, almost as if she were trying to catch me out. She then called her supervisor Sithle Tshabalala (an a*****e with a chip on his shoulder) who was extremely rude to me, and on two occasions said he was NOT prepared to help me at all. I asked if I could sleep in the SAA lounge since they were not prepared to pay for my night’s accommodation. They also refused this. In desperation, I approached another agent and requested a wheelchair, because I had earlier run from gate A7 to A5 with my injured ankle, and was no longer able to walk normally. Tshabalala was extremely aggresive and continued the prosecutor type ‘interrogation’ that was started by his subordinate Musobi. I then asked him again whether he could rebook me for the next day and offer me a place to stay the night. I stated that I could easily sleep in the SAA lounge. He responded angrily that he would NOT help me and that I would have to wait until 9am the next day to speak with his supervisor. Not only did Tshabalala refuse to rebook me, he also insisted that I would have to pay $250 to reschedule the flight for a mistake made by one of SAA’s agents! I was taken to the Assisted Passengers room and told I could stay there. It is a filthy and disgusting room in which I spent the night as I was short of cash to rent a hotel room. I was cold most of the night as temperatures had dropped substantially. 4. The following day, I tried on several occasions to contact their supervisors and finally was assigned to Mohlab Maringa. He would not help me at first, but I continued to ask for his superiors until he finally decided he was going to try and help me. This only after the only helpful customer service agent at SAA convinced him it was not my fault. Unfortunately, I did not get her name. The night before, agents Tshabalala and Musobi were trying to get me to pay R2500 ($250) to rebook the flight for the next day. I refused telling them it was NOT my fault. They thought otherwise and convinced Maringa also. All this, and I found out later that a black passenger who had missed his flight because he was not even at the airport, was rescheduled without any issues whatsoever. Could it be that he is black or was a government official? I on the other hand, am a white middle aged man who faces discrimination from the new South Africa, even though I had nothing to do with Apartheid and never voted in South Africa. 5. Maringa had conducted no internal investigation when my travel agent was talking to him on the phone whilst he was standing right there next to me. Instead he chose to lie to her and distort the facts. He had earlier asked me who it was that directed me to gate A7. I informed him that I was unsure but the person could have been wearing yellow as he intimated. I was of course unsure because I was tired and flabbergasted. So he lied when he suggested there was now new evidence to support his stance that it was not an SAA agent who wrongly directed me to gate A7. I finally asked him whether or not he would sign a letter stating that I had been misdirected, to which he replied that he would not. I then overheard him saying there were first class seats available and suggested that he allow me to travel first class given my suffering and my present condition. He responded that my economy ticket was not worth the effort. Even if they had allowed me to fly in business or first class to atone for their poor customer service, I doubt that I would have fared much better given my physical condition. I insisted for a full ticket refund, and was too tired to fly on to Hong Kong later that night – having lost sleep, unable to breathe properly and having a swollen ankle. In fact, I flew back to Cape Town from whence I had arrived the afternoon before, on a different airline which cost me another $150. Moreover, not on any occasion in my dealings with the support staff of SAA, did any think to call a wheelchair for me, even after I explained that I was experiencing pain and discomfort. To add insult to injury, Maringa ended his conversation with me by stating that I had not arrived as a Wheelchair traveler, therefore SAA could not be held responsible. An awful experience and a nightmare which I would rather die, than have to live through one more time. There is no way I could have survived the second night ordeal in my condition. In fact, it would have been bad enough, even in business or first class. If you must take a longer route, then be warned: a longer route on a more reliable airline will save you money, nightmares and needless headaches. I am still waiting for my refund from SAA. I somehow doubt it will be forthcoming any time soon. Travel SAA at your own risk!

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