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Comair Refuses to Let Deaf & Blind Priest Fly By Himself

Travelers Today       By    Katie McFadden

Updated: Aug 12, 2013 01:24 PM EDT

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A deaf and blind priest says he was humiliated when Comair staff wouldn't let him fly by himself from Cape International Airport.

Father Cyril Axelrod, 71, of the Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Bergvliet, was trying to board a plane to Joburg on Saturday. He says that be had traveled between South Africa and England often and has never had issues traveling by himself before, News 24 reports.

"I have a relationship with a travel agent who knows my travel needs and always clarifies them to the airline beforehand," Axelrod told the Cape Times, speaking through a sign language translator.

Axelrod has a special tag that was given to him five years ago, which has his name on it and says that he has clearance to travel on his own. However, when he was trying to check in on Saturday, a Comair ground crew member told him that she wasn't sure if he would be able to fly. She contacted a supervisor, who wouldn't give Axelrod clearance.

"I explained to them that I have flown alone to South Africa many times. But they called the captain, who said no, I am not allowed on the flight... I was shocked. I couldn't believe it," he said.

The crew even asked Axelrod is he knew the emergency procedure. He said that he knew it and even recited it to them, but that wasn't good enough. His boarding pass was confiscated and he had to go back to Bergvliet as he wasn't able to travel to Joburg, where he was supposed to give a church service on the East Rand.

 "I feel humiliated. They took away my human rights," he said. "I feel extremely bad about this. They didn't treat me like a human being.

"They should have asked how I could assist them. They could have learned something. They could have asked me and I could have helped them. This is not fair."

Axelrod is supposed to fly back to England next month and he is concerned that he won't be allowed on the plane. "I was born and raised in South Africa. But I live in England. They know my home is in London," he said.

Director for the Deaf Federation for South Africa Bruno Druchen says Axelrod was discriminated against.

"It is totally unacceptable and against the principles of the UN Convention on the rights of people with Disabilities, on which the SA government is one of the signatories, for Comair to have treated deaf and blind priest Cyril Axelrod the way they did," Druchen said. "Comair should have provided assistance for Mr Axelrod's flight to Johannesburg and an alternative arrangement and not left him stranded."

The Cape Times reached out to the airline. "For the safety of the customer as well as fellow customers and crew, Comair requires customers who are deaf as well as blind to be escorted by a qualified person who can communicate with the customer in case of an emergency," Comair spokesperson Susan van der Ryst said. She says that Axelrod refused to pay for a trained assistant at the cost of another seat. She says the airline will refund his ticket.

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