SCORES of Air Zimbabwe passengers yesterday morning endured a delay of more than one hour after airline officials refused to let a heavily pregnant Sandra Ndebele board a flight from Harare to Bulawayo.
The songstress told The Chronicle yesterday that the airline was demanding an official confirmation from her gynaecologist that she was fit to fly. She said they apparently feared she could go into labour in midflight. The passengers included Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo and mourners who were going to attend the former National University of Science and Technology (Nust) Vice Chancellor Professor Lindela Ndlovu’s burial in Bulawayo.
The morning flight normally takes off at 7AM and lands in Bulawayo at 7.45AM. Some of the passengers told Chronicle that they arrived at 9.15AM after the pilot, Captain Elizabeth Simbi Petros, demanded to see Ndebele’s confirmation letter before takeoff. Ndebele, who is eight months (36 weeks) pregnant said Air Zimbabwe officials kept the letter when she submitted it at the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport as she travelled to Harare on Friday.
She said the officials did not tell her the gynaecologist’s fitness certificate would be needed on the return flight. “I was so stressed I thought I would give birth prematurely,” Ndebele said of her experience. She said the ordeal was even more traumatising because she had told her family to wait for her at the airport. “I submitted the confirmation letter when I travelled to Harare on Friday. I was surprised when they demanded to see the same letter on my way back. “They phoned the Bulawayo airport and someone confirmed that they were in possession of the letter. Petros, however, insisted that she wanted to see it. We had to wait for it to be faxed to the Harare airport. We left Harare at 8AM and arrived at 8.45AM,” said Ndebele.
Efforts to get a comment from Air Zimbabwe public relations officer Shingai Dhliwayo were fruitless as she had not responded to questions e-mailed to her by the time of going to Press. Passengers said they were dissatisfied with the airline for delaying them. “Air Zimbabwe can do better than this. This is something that could’ve been done way before we travelled,” said a passenger who declined to be named. A local gynaecologist yesterday said it can be safe for pregnant women to fly during the third trimester- up to 36 weeks. “It’s, however, important to see a gynaecologist or a midwife before flying. Otherwise if the pregnancy isn’t complicated, one can fly up to 36 weeks of pregnancy,” said the doctor who cannot be named for professional reasons.
The doctor said airlines are sometimes unwilling to carry women who are more than 28 weeks pregnant because of the risk of premature labour. Air Zimbabwe has in the past delayed its passengers, leaving them stranded with no food or drink for hours.