Sunday, March 09, 2008

TAAG - Mystery of the EU Ban Solved

(Part 2 of 3)

Because there are two immigration agents in the Benguela airport out to get me, I was unable to make the trip from Cunene to Benguela via air. There is major flooding in Cunene and the roads leading to the north, which were in horrible condition in the first place, are now totally inaccessible. My only option, therefore, was to fly to Luanda and then drive back to Lobito: meaning that a trip that usually takes 1 hour by air would take two full days.

The only available flight to Luanda the Friday I was scheduled to leave was on TAAG. You might know TAAG as the nationalized airline that crashed a plane in Mbanza Congo on they same day that they were put on the black list and banned from flying in the European Union. (A twist of fate that could only happen in Angola.) Needless to say, I was not excited, but the only way to avoid TAAG was to wait until Wednesday. I just had to suck it up and hope for the best.

Check-in was to begin at 6:30 for a 9:30 flight, so I got there at 7 am. Checked in without a problem, especially since I didn’t have any bags to check. 9:30 came and went. 11:00 came and went. Finally around noon, I went to the TAAG window and asked for information about the flight. “Has it left Luanda?” “Oh yes, it has.” “Really? When did it leave? When will it arrive?” “Oh, I don’t know. Soon.” Helpful.

Finally, around 3:30, the plane arrived from Luanda. There was a mad rush to the door and out we went onto the tarmac. There was a hold-up getting on to the plane; the airline people weren’t allowing anyone on board with their carry-on bags. For some reason they didn’t say anything to me, and I managed to get to the stairs. A baggage handler ran over and stopped me from getting on. “You can’t get on with any bags!” I asked for an explanation and was told that the crew in Luanda and second city on the route hadn’t complied with the carry-on restrictions, so they weren’t letting any people carry things on in Cunene. I said as calmly as I could, “TAAG has made me wait for six hours. I refuse to have to wait any more because of a mistake you made.” He still insisted- no apology, of course- and grabbed my carry-on. Assuming it was finished, I started to go up the stairs to the plane. “No, I need the other one too!” He was referring to my purse! Pretty ridiculous, if you ask me. I explained that I had my camera, wallet, passport, and money in there- if he was willing to sign a paper listing every single item with its value and be held responsible, then I would give him the bag. Finally succumbing to reason, he let me on the plane with my purse.

The flight attendant was not as “helpful.” Sure enough, all the overhead bins were in use, so I put the purse underneath the seat in front of me. For some reason, the flight attendants wouldn’t let anyone have anything underneath the seats, so she said she would put my purse in the back of the plane. I refused because, as I said, I had my camera, passport, etc and didn’t want it out of my sight. “Senhora. It’s because of these carry-on bags on the floor that we got citations and were put on the black lists in Europe!” I looked at her and just laughed. Oh, it’s the CARRY-ON bags that banned TAAG from the EU!? Mystery solved!

Her solution was as inane as her comment. He asked the man sitting across the aisle to get out of his seat and move to another one. She put my purse in the empty seat and strapped it in with the seat belt. The woman sitting next to me said, “You won’t let her put in under the seat so you put it on top of the seat?!” Glad to know I wasn’t the only one astounded by the whole thing.

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