June 26

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Absurd and Amusing Airport Anecdotes

“Laugh at yourself, so that you will be able to laugh at the challenges of life.” Savitha Hosamane

On June 17th I began my journey from Canada to Lesotho.  I consider myself to be well travelled.  Maybe not as much as some, but I know my way around airports.  I’ve also on occasion travelled on my own, so I wasn’t worried about getting to Maseru by myself.  To me it was going to be a piece of cake.  The hardest thing would be how long it took, but that wasn’t even that big a deal.

So, after 20 hours (this includes flights and layovers) I was in Johannesburg.  The flight arrived about 30 mins late, so my hour and 40 minute layover was actually just a little over an hour.  Good news right?  Less time waiting before I start my final journey to Maseru.  WRONG!!

See, as the plane finally stopped at the walkway bridge, or jetbridge, or whatever that tunnel thing is called, the flight crew made an announcement:  “All passengers travelling on domestic flights must pick up their bags at baggage claim as they will not be checked through”  I heard this, without dissecting what was actually said, and panicked.  I looked at my watch and saw that it was 8:30 am.  My flight to Maseru was boarding at 9:00 am.  How in the world was I going to get my luggage, get it checked in to the Maseru flight and still make my boarding time of 9:00am.  I started freaking out in my head at this point.  I looked at my seat mate, and she had the same understanding of the message that I had.  In fact she said to me that she thought her bags had been checked in all the way to her final destination.  That’s what I thought I had done as well…

As it turns out, that is what I had done, I just didn’t know it at the time.  You see the message was for domestic flights.  My flight to Maseru was international, as Lesotho is a separate country from South Africa.  That message didn’t apply to me.  I was just too tired to fully process that.  So thinking maybe I misunderstood, I went up to one of the flight attendants, showed her my boarding pass to Maseru, and said do I really need to pick up my bags before my connecting flight?  She looked at my boarding pass, but as I look back at this in hindsight, I don’t think heard what I was asking.  She said to me, that I needed to hurry to make my flight, and to look for someone from the ground crew to help me.  That to me solidified that my bags were indeed not checked through.

At this point I began madly powerwalking through the airport, following the signs for baggage claim.  I get to customs and there’s a long line ahead of me.  So, I go up to every single person in front of me, showing them my boarding pass, and asking them if I can go ahead of them as my flight boards in 30 mins.  Every single person said yes.  My faith in humanity had been restored by that small gesture of kindness from complete strangers.  I make it to the customs official, who looks at my boarding pass, and asks me why I hadn’t checked my luggage through.  He said there was no way I was going to make my flight.  I responded to him by saying I thought I had done that.  He let me go through and I again began to madly powerwalk to the luggage carousel, freaking out even more.

As I’m walking, I keep repeating the same thing over, and over, and over again “Please God let me get my bags quickly and make my flight”.  I made it to the carousel and saw bags had begun making their way around.  I was looking for my bags and hoping they would come quickly, otherwise I was sunk.  As I was looking for my bags on the carousel, I saw a gentleman who worked for the airport standing there.  I don’t know what possessed my to go up to him.  Maybe it was all of the praying I had done as I was walking to collect my bags.  But I did go to him to ask about my bags.  I don’t even know what I was going to ask but I figured if I could talk to someone, I could maybe figure out where to go next.  This man asked to see my luggage tags.  As soon as he saw them, he told me that my bags had indeed been checked through to Maseru and they were definitely not going to be offloaded on this carousel.  Then he gave me directions as to where I needed to go next.  I thanked him up and down and then began walking towards the direction he pointed me in.

I then saw a South African Airways (SAA) counter with no line, and an attendant.  I went to that person to ask her where exactly I needed to go in order to catch my connecting flight.  She told me I had to go back downstairs and do something with baggage check and then come back.  I tried to explain to her that my bags were checked through and I just needed to get to the gate where my connecting flight was taking off, but there was some kind of communication breakdown between the two of us.  Luckily, a colleague of hers arrived.  She talked to her colleague, and her colleague gave her the information that I needed.  It was that my connecting flight was going to board at gate A29.  At this point I had about 15 mins to get to that gate.  The SAA attendant gave me directions to the gate and I was off, again.

I was making my way, according to the directions I was given, when I came to this huge area of the airport that had many different directions to go through.  I was trying to figure out which way to go.  I must have had an expression of complete and utter helplessness on my face, as an airport worker approached me, and asked me if I needed help.  I said yes, I needed to get to gate A29 but I wasn’t sure where that was.  Fortunately he knew that I needed to go through security first, before I could even start making my way to the gate.  He told me to follow him, and he was able to get me to security quickly.  You see, it still hadn’t dawned on me at that point, that I had exited the secure area of the airport when I went to baggage claim and I had to go through security again, before I could even get to gate A29.  Had that man not approached me, and asked me if I needed help, I may not have made my flight on time.

Luckily there was only one other couple ahead of me in the line, but they told me I could go ahead of them.  They must have been in the customs line with me earlier.  Anyway I went through security, unpacked my laptop from my carry-on, re-packed it, then went through customs again, luckily there was no line, and I was cleared quickly.  Now I was finally on my way to gate A29.  I had about 7 minutes left at this point before the flight started boarding.

As I’m walking to the gate, I’m seeing the signs for it so I know where I’m heading.  I must still have had a crazy expression on my face though, as someone from the airport saw me, and asked me if I needed help.  At this point I was good and said no thank you.  I finally made it to gate A29 with 2 minutes to spare!  I don’t think I can possibly explain how relieved I was that I had not missed my connecting flight.  I wouldn’t have to explain to CHAI that I was going to be extremely late getting in.  I wouldn’t have to figure out how to get on to the second flight out to Maseru.  Everything was going to be ok.  I even had time to buy some water.  My throat was so dry from the stress, nerves, and running around, that it was painful.  I gulped down that water bottle in almost one shot.

It wasn’t until I was on the flight to Maseru and had a minute to think, that I realized what my mistake had been.  I hadn’t processed the word domestic.  I can’t believe I did something that foolish.  I’m going to blame that on 20 hours of travelling, and no sleep, and I’m sticking with that, even as a I slap my hand to my forehead and shake my head at myself…at least everything worked out in the end.

An hour later I land in Maseru.  Even though I know my luggage was checked through, I’m still a little nervous that just maybe, my bags were sitting in the Johannesburg airport waiting for me to pick them up.  But here’s the thing about distinctive luggage, you can spot it from a mile away.  As I’m disembarking onto the tarmac in Maseru, I turn my head to the left and I see my luggage being offloaded from the plane.  I was doing quite the internal happy dance.  Not only did I arrive safe and sound, and on time, but so did all my stuff. YAY!!!!

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Now, Maseru airport is really, really, small.  I walked ten steps from the tarmac to the airport.  Ten steps to one, of two customs control agents, then I walked another ten steps to get to the baggage carousel.  The airport staff didn’t even use it.  They just brought all passengers bags in and set them to the side.  I picked up my luggage and walked another ten steps to the x-ray machine.  Apparently I had something in my bags that needed to be checked out further, so I walked another ten steps to secondary screening.  Turns out my manicure scissors, which are allowed, made me look suspicious.  But again, it all turned out fine.  I walked another ten steps to exit the secure part of the airport and saw Lebohang waiting for me.  Lebohang works for CHAI and was kind enough to come and pick me up from the airport.

Lebohang not only picked me up, but also took me on a quick grocery run, so I would have the basics at the CHAI house.  He then helped get me sorted with an international SIM card for my phone, and showed me around the CHAI house.  I then quickly got ready for my lunch with CHAI Country Director Emily.  I’m so impressed with how nice, open and welcoming everyone at CHAI is.  They really know how to make someone feel welcome.  I feel incredibly lucky to be working with everyone here.

At lunch, Emily told me that on Tuesday, I would be heading up to the mountains with my Nutrition team for a couple of days, to observe the World Food Program (WFP) volunteers distributing the Supercereal Plus.  This is the cereal that I am writing an investment case for.  I was really excited about this, but also realized that I would need a pair of boots, if I was going to the mountains.

You see, I had debated bringing my boots with me.  I knew Lesotho would be a little cold at this time of the year, and I also knew I would be coming back to Canada in the winter time.  However, I had multiple people’s voices in my head as I was packing saying: “Christina, you don’t need that many shoes”.  “Christina edit your shoe choices”.  So I didn’t bring my boots.  But that’s ok as I got to go shoe shopping within two days of arriving in Lesotho (that is a record for me), and I picked up a kick-ass pair of boots in the process.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.  Feel free to post in the comment section.  I’m still shaking my head at how dense I was, but laughing at the same time.  Sometimes these things just happen.  On the plus side, I got to see people be extremely nice to a stranger which was really cool.

My next blog post will be about my trip in the mountains.  Stay tuned….