Scum of the Earth

2011-01-20 00:00

FOR the past week or so I have been interviewing South African air travellers who got caught up in the December weather chaos that shut down most of Europe's major airports.

What I am hearing is that we (South Africans) are still considered to be the scum of the Earth in Europe.

Take for example the story of the Thompsons from Cape Town. They left for Los Angeles via Frankfurt on Lufthansa on December 18 and flew straight into the chaos caused by heavy snowfalls. They were diverted to Munich and eventually made it to Frankfurt to find that their Lufthansa-Continental code share flight to Los Angeles had been cancelled.

Passengers were told they would be put up at a Frankfurt Hotel and given meal vouchers until they could be accommodated on later flights.

Except for the Thompsons. Because they had South African passports and South Africans need those diabolical Schengen visas to set foot in Europe, they were curtly told that they would have to stay at the airport. They were not given any meal vouchers and had to spend two nights sleeping on the airport floor. Not easy when you are over 70 years of age.

They got into the waitlist queue for Los Angeles flights and, wanting make sure that they were in the right place, they asked a Lufthansa official and he immediately smiled and asked if they had United States passports.

When they said they had South African passports he shook his head, the smile disappeared and he told them to go to the back of another queue. They then went to the Continental Airlines desk, but before they could ask for help the same Lufthansa official came up and said: "What are you doing here? I thought I told you to go to the back of that queue."

As Mrs Thompson explained: "There was no question that as far as he was concerned we were the scum of the Earth — it stood out a mile that he just didn't like South Africans."

Over the next two days the Thompsons waited in queues and something else that was openly apparent to them was that the passengers who were being "chosen" to get the few seats available on each flight that left for Los Angeles were firstly Germans and then other European passport holders and Americans.

The Thompsons eventually arrived at their final destination almost 100 hours after leaving Cape Town.

I know that the snow caused chaos for everyone, but this

story is a typical example of the rank discrimination against South Africans and other travellers from developing countries caused by the draconian

Schengen visa.

Australians, for example, do not need a Schengen visa to visit Europe.

And you can say what you like about the illegal African immigrant problem in Europe, but the point I am making is that when a problem arises — such as being stuck in transit at an airport — there is no exception to the rule or mechanism for airlines to put South African passengers up in hotels because without that damn Shengen visa they can't leave the airport.

It is discriminatory, disgusting and insulting.

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