Tuesday, October 30, 2007

South African Airlines is out to get me

South African Airlines is out to get me

I never considered myself to be an unlucky or lucky person- just normal luck, I guess. Lately though, the tide has turned for the worse. Last week during my return trip to Angola, I had possibly the worst luck I could have had.

My flight from Houston to Washington left late. I arrived with only twenty minutes to make my connecting flight to Johannesburg. I ran up to the gate with my boarding pass and they directed me to the ticket counter to get my passport verified once again. After anxiously waiting in line, I was finally called over to the agent, who promptly ignored me. As the people behind me in line sped past, I tried to get the woman’s attention. I like to think that I am a polite person, but perhaps I asked, “Excuse me, ma’am?” in a nasty tone because she responded, “You need to wait.” She was having a conversation with her supervisor, and all I could hear was, “…before we close the gate… passengers need to get off… unload bags… no more passengers on the plane.” What?!

Apparently, the plane was too heavy. They weren’t letting any more people on the plane- boarding pass/ticket or not- until they could resolve the weight issue. They found 12 suckers- sorry, I mean, volunteers- to give up their seats for a free ticket. (Having done this once before I know it is more of a hassle than it is worth.) As I finally boarded, they assured us that if we were on the plane, so were our bags, and we were, in fact, NOT going to crash into the Atlantic. Great!

We then proceeded to sit on the tarmac for an hour. No explanation, other than that we were experiencing some delays. We finally take off, and the 15 hour journey began. I was able to sleep a bit, which was nice. As we prepared to land, I looked at the “Local Time at Arrival” on the screen: 1520. Whoops! My flight to Luanda was scheduled to leave at 1550. I prepared myself for the worst.

As I ran to the international transit check-in lounge, I could see the TAAG screen on the monitor. Filled with hope, I ran up to the counter and presented my ticket. As I did, the TAAG logo changed to an Olympic Airways flight to Athens logo. The guy looked at me as if I were crazy and said, “That flight is already in the air.”

Somehow still calm, I checked in with the South African Airways people. The guy looked at my ticket and said, “We are not responsible for putting you up in a hotel because this is an illegal booking. There is only one hour for an international connection. Whoever did this is responsible.” With immense satisfaction, I showed him the address of the South African Airways office in Ft. Lauderdale that issued me the ticket.

They put me up in an acceptable hotel that was at one point nice, but by the time I got to it, it had passed its prime. By now, I realized just how stinky I was going to be the next day, because I had no change of clothes. Luckily I had saved the travel toothbrush from SAA, so I could at least brush my teeth.

As I checked in the next morning, the ticket agent asked about my bags. He took my claim tickets and said, “Okay, they’ll be fine.” Excellent! I don’t know if my body knew something before I did, but I began to feel ill and immediately ran to the bathroom, where I puked. In the end, I managed to get on the flight alright, feeling better.

Ah, the joy of arrival in Luanda. Always a genius, the Angolan government has decided to change the way you get your passport stamped. Unlike most other countries in the world, Angola no longer distributed custom forms on the plane for you to fill out with plenty of time. No, no! You must first get in line to show your proof of yellow fever shot to the agent in the airport- THEN get your customs form- THEN fill it out- THEN get in line for the immigration control. Of course there is only one agent with papers for the entire plane and crew, so you can imagine how long it must take.

I got through immigration with no problems, which was surprising. I got the little cart of my three bags- I paid US$180 extra in the US to have a third bag checked- and was relieved to be back in Angola and on my way home.

My relief was short-lived, for not long after I got to the baggage area did the handler com out yelling, “Acabou! Não tem mais! It’s over! No More!” As in, unloading of the flight’s baggage has finished and there are no more suitcases. Wonderful. I go to the claim line to fill out my form of missing baggage.

I got to the agent and he asked what happened. I said, “Perderam a bagagem. My luggage is lost.” He responded in a typical Angolan way: “Não, não se perdeu. Só que não veio. It’s not lost. It just didn’t come.” Of course he could give me no guarantees of when it would come or with which airline, so I was out of luck.

Trying to be positive, I thought, “Well at least I don’t have to check bag for my flight back to Lobito.” I went outside to meet the driver, and he said, “Hurry! The flight is supposed to leave in an hour! Check-in’s already closed!” I had nasty flashbacks to the last time this happened, but I just tried not to focus too much on the nice shower and change of clothes that was waiting for me.

Since I didn’t have any bags, they let me through without much complaint. The flight was 2 hours late, but finally at 1700 they called us for boarding and we got out onto the tarmac. We boarded the plane and started to move- about 100 meters. Then a flight attendant comes on the speaker and says, “O vôo está cancelado. The flight is canceled.” A minor uprising ensued, and several angry passengers demanded to know what was going on. We weren’t given an explanation, of course; just that it was canceled and we had to be at the airport the next morning at 5:30.

By then I was ready to burn my clothes. It was Thursday night and I had been wearing them since Tuesday. I had no deodorant, no conditioner, no other toiletries, nothing to sleep in. I was not happy. However, I was too tired and jet-lagged to really care, and at out guest house I fell asleep at 6:45 and slept until 5 the next morning.

From there, I didn’t have any more problems. My luggage has still not appeared. I don’t have any of the things I bought in the US- clothes, shoes, presents, medicines, toiletries, contact lenses, DVDs, etc- and the longer it takes, the less hope I have of seeing them. This happens a lot- I’m surprised it’s the first time it’s happened to me. I bought locks and put them on everything, but I’m sure the airport workers are smart enough to get around them.

I’ve not heard any info on where they could be. I suspect they didn’t make it on the flight I was on to Johannesburg, due to the weight issue and my delayed flight from Houston. However, SAA in the US can’t give my parents any information, and conveniently, the office in Luanda doesn’t have a phone.

Welcome back to Angola.


Sean Els said...

Hi Leslie

Names Sean. I'm a South African in the Telcomm idustry up here to help Unitel find their feet.
1st thing I do when in a foreign country is start reading the local expat blogs, I've find it a good way to get the general feel of the place. I have to say that your blog is one of the very few that I have found that has a positive attitude towards Angola, its a nice breath of fresh air after reading countless negative comments and remarks. IMHO Angolans are some of the friendliest people I've come across in Africa, for every negative thing about this country I've found atleast 2 positives.

BTW dont feel single out SAA, they've lost my baggage twice in a row.

Keep up the good attitude

Josh said...

Sounds like you had a rough go of it. My friend has been emailing a disturbing number of YouTube videos that involve vomit. Not to worry, I've changed my settings and they now go directly into my junk mail.

I too just took a 14 hour cruise across the skies. Aside from the fact that I chose an emergency exit aisle on line (more leg room)only to have the woman on the phone assure me that the row BEHIND that was the one I wanted and switching me (I had been right) things went smoothly. I was actually able to switch with this Chinese dude who wanted to sit with his wife and just sat down in a seat that was assigned to someone else. The hilarity of watching the attendant who spoke no Chinese trying to convince the guy to move was priceless. They did wake me up from a deep sleep to feed me their crappy food, but I was able to overlook that because I'm so easy going.

You should be happy your clothes showed up at all. A friend of mine never got her bags on a flight from Auckland to Glasgow. They gave her like 300 pounds to replace all of her stuff--6 weeks later.

Namita said...

Hi Friends,

This is Namita. I flew with South African Airways on Feb 23rd. I started from Johannesburg to Mumbai. It was a direct flight.

When I landed I couldn't find my bag at luggage belt. Bombay authorities told me that I will get my bag back by 26th Morning surely as it has not been loaded into this flight.

Till date I haven't got any bag. I call up Bombay as well as Johannesburg office everyday but no one is ready to give any kind of information.

According to them bag was not tagged although I have a tag number (425067).

I have so many official documents, gifts, clothes as I went to Johannesburg for 25 days official trip.

This is just a harrasment nothing else.