Missing a flight

Posted on February 9, 2014


In all my 38 years I’ve never once missed a flight. In my 20s I had a few close shaves, but I always made it to the gate. The hairy moments were usually after a large night out where I had drunk too much, slept too long and left home too late.

My best mate Mama Afrika has been witness to this a few times as she waited patiently with folded arms, pacing gently by the check-in desk. I must confess there was one solitary occasion when she was implicated in my tardiness after we had a “last call” moment for Tanna and Co and we had to sprint through security and the throngs of passengers covering the endless conveyor belts to the gate. She wasn’t very smiley on that particular flight, I can’t imagine why?!

So this afternoon during my last day in Jo’burg everyone kept asking me, “When do you fly?” From memory I stated confidently around 9, but truthfully I wasn’t sure. I have felt lost without wifi for some of this trip as The Blonde doesn’t have broadband at home. The modem I borrowed from her friend had run out of juice and was charging, so not only did I fail to log onto email to double check the time but failed miserably to check in. But this is Africa, so no need to panic about being super organised and on time right? Hold that thought.

This would be a good time for me to fill you in on my return flight from Congo.

On the day I was due to fly back to Jo’burg (Wednesday night) I went into the offices in Brazzaville and said to Tarzan and the Brit that I wanted to print off my boarding card. My reference number however was not registering and apparently my booking didn’t exist. I started to fret.

“Don’t worry about it,” Tarzan said in that very laid back I’ve lived in Central Africa for far too long and have now adopted a more blasé attitude to time keeping.

“You can do it at the airport, ” he added.

“Ok, ” I thought. “He knows what he’s talking about as he flies all the time!”

The Brit raised an eyebrow and shot me a look. “Bear in mind that he also thinks that the flight will always wait for him, if he’s late,” he said with a boyish grin.

I had every intention of getting to Brazzaville airport with 2 hours to spare as it is an international flight. Except that circumstance was against me. The president had also decided to visit the airport to open a car park or something equally less exciting that day and the traffic was horrendous, more so than usual due to tight security and road closures.

As we stepped into the glare of the sun, the fear of having to shell out another five hundred quid for a new flight back to South Africa if I was late made me sweat even more. Tarzan darted down the traffic jam until he found an empty cab. He said something in French about the quickest route, gave directions, agreed a fee and shoved me in the back.

I was very grateful that he prepped the driver, however my man was no Jenson Button the journey was more Driving Miss Daisy.

“Vite, vite,” I said taping my watch and holding up my wrist in the driver’s mirror. We’d been sat in a jam while everyone else was queue jumping. The Londoner in me was considering taking hold of the wheel at one point. When we finally crawled to a halt the road leading to the airport drop off point was shut. We pulled up about a good 15 minute walk away. He turned to me and smiled as if to say, “There you go, now pay me and leave.”

“Oh no you don’t, , I thought. “There’s no way on earth I’m carrying this heavy bag in the blazing sun with just an hour to spare to get to the desk.”

One wheel from my suitcase had fallen off somewhere between South Africa and Congo and pulling the bag made the most hideous scraping sound. I looked more like an awkward road sweeper than a sophisticated traveller. The driver agreed to carry it for me and off we went. Me steaming ahead, his pace not much faster than his driving speed.

Then out of nowhere a wylie luggage handler appeared, grabbed the bag and started to walk off with it. “Oi!!!” I yelled. He continued. I fumbled for my purse to pay the driver and ran after the chancer. He wasn’t doing this in the name of being a Good Samaritan, oh no, it was his way to earn a fast buck.

I’ve never had an argument in a foreign language before, but I made a jolly good stab at it. Tone, intonation and single staccato sounding words, mainly ‘non’ made it crystal clear I hand zero local currency left for tips.

It was awkward to say the least but I managed to shake him off shoving him some Rand and hurried towards check-in. There I met a lovely man who had lived in London, in fact Tottenham, for a few years while studying a business degree. There was no urgency in his manner despite there being less than an hour to take off while he reminisced about the UK. He handed me my boarding pass and I legged it to security.

While in Congo I haven’t felt vulnerable, intimidated or harassed by men, probably as the boys were a good letch repellent. But in the airport every other member of ground staff was hitting on me and there really wasn’t time for it. My bare finger on my left hand was a clear signal that I must be looking for a husband – not!

The flight was delayed by about an hour which was pretty good considering the chaos outside and no one freaked out that I only rocked up 50mins before take off.

Ok now fast forward to this evening and Jo’burg. Completely different scenario.

En route to the airport, The Blonde took my word as gospel that the flight was at around 9. Except it wasn’t. We laughed in the car about the time she left London for good and almost missed her flight back home because of all the long goodbyes.

As we entered the terminal building I glanced at the departure board. I had a bad feeling. One flight was at 1940 and the other was at 2030 both to Frankfurt flying with Lufthanser. At the desk with 45 minutes to take off I was turned away despite apologies and begging. I might have got away with it in Congo, but not in South Africa.

The Blonde went nuts. Getting through security and border control is not like Heathrow. It takes 15 minutes max. I could have easily made it. After a huge rant by her and one of the airline staff I was informed my ticket was restricted and could not be changed or wait 24 hours (impossible as I have a prior engagement I cannot miss). I would have to buy a new one. Looks like I’m going get shafted, but there really was no one to blame but myself.

At a cool five hundred quid I handed over my credit card reluctantly as it was prised from my grasp and I vowed to always check in 24 hours before a flight.

I’m now on a direct Virgin flight winging my way back home still in shock. At least the food, movies and service is better, so I guess there’s some silver lining despite the expensive drama.