People with particular needs, elderly and disabled travellers in particular, and sometimes children travelling alone, will be more familiar with the significance of special assistance on-board flights and at the international airports. As a frequent visually impaired independent traveller, I will demonstrate my own experience at the Aden Adde International Airport in Mogadishu, with the sole aim of promoting better and improved services as a result of following lines.
As usual, any passenger who requires a guide owing to a visual impairment or any other special assistance, such as wheelchair due to inability to walk long distances or seated on a wheelchair, only needs to inform their respective airliner at the booking of their flight. Upon booking, all they need is to come to the desk at the airport and a dedicated ground staff should help them towards the airplane. Then a member of the crew should assist the passenger to find his or her seat, show them the call bell – that is, if the passenger is visually impaired, and demonstrate the basic safety procedures. Upon arrival, the crew would then assign their passenger to a dedicated ground member of staff which should help the assisted traveller to disembark and exit the airport, or connect them with their next carrier if they are transit. That is precisely how things work, as all airliners and international airports throughout the world are expected to provide such necessitating services. Apparently, I had all of that during my trip from London to Mogadishu through Istanbul as usual, and have been privileged to enjoy such services for the last 25 years from which I have been travelling alone throughout the world.
If that is fortunately possible elsewhere, it is not so unfortunately in Somalia. Upon arriving Mogadishu international airport, as soon as the crew member of the Turkish Airlines assisted me to leave from the aircraft, waves of people ascended on me, offering their help but by pulling my hands to different directions without verbal communication to identify themselves for me. The international procedure is for all staffs must declare their name and the agency they work for to the visually impaired customers who cannot read their tags. To that effect, people who wanted to help me have even failed to explain for me who they are and for whom they work. To my shock, they continued to pass me to one another in a chaotic situation without paying any attention to my basic inquiries, like who are those guiding me. Everybody was asking me to show my passport and provide the $50 visa fee. Much worse, everybody in the hall was shouting with no respect for queue procedures. Surprisingly, and to some extent, peculiar to the oral character of the Somali people, the immigration officer behind the designated passport control window was absolutely soundless. He took my passport without uttering a word, as if I was able to read the movement of his lips. I left the immigration hall, still with the help of the assumed staff members, and headed to the exit of the airport to meet my collectors at the gate. There I had my next encounter with a crowd of beggars and Taxi drivers, who began shouting at me, ‘Oh camoole’ [a slander Somali term meaning ‘the blind man’], please give us some money’ or ‘do you want taxi etc!’, as though I am excited about my new founded nickname, which I hope will not be used against me during my stay in Mogadishu!
Of course, this was not my first time I visited Somalia or Mogadishu particularly. However, the difference is that, before the restoration of authority to airports in the south at least, everybody was picking up their visitors at the bottom of the aircraft staircases and I was no strange to this trend. In fact, I used to enjoy those services. However, I have been expecting much better services after the return of order and authority. This is not funny, for I really felt vulnerable, threatened and disable for the first time in the 25 years in which I have been travelling alone because, generally speaking, human nature is people tend to trust authority or someone they know. I have not seen authority to trust and of course anyone whom I knew, but it is perplexing to me, why the beggars and Taxi drivers had been allowed in, where the general public who are collecting their friends and relatives are band from entering the airport. Are not they posing a similar security concern if that was the reason? Both the Airliners and the Airport authorities are expected to meet up the international standards of services enjoyed elsewhere if they care of their customers or want to build a better future for Somalia in general and Mogadishu airport in particular.
However, to cut the long story short, I am not someone who is rather disappointed as a result of unrealistic pre-fixed expectations of our currently recovering and reviving capital city and its airport, but I am pointing out some basic shortcomings which, I do confidently believe, can be easily improved with a little attention and care. Things like appropriate queuing system, better staff-versus-passenger communication, special assistance and guiding route to elderly and disabled citizens do not require a sophisticated technology, foreign expertise or even huge funding. It only needs someone’s attention, understanding and organisation among those who have responsibility on this vital facility.
Abdirahman Farah (Luunge)
The writer is Disability Rights Activist, and can be reached at: