Colleen Figg

My terminal hell

2007-10-26 08:40

Colleen Figg

I was recently a guest of ACSA (Airports Company of South Africa) on my way to and from the Western Cape area. It struck me that somewhere along the line this company had dropped the ball somewhat, with flights being delayed, cancelled, re-scheduled, stuck on the apron for hours and other sundry "inconveniences" of that ilk.

This past Friday night was particularly chaotic, with announcements being made by just about all the airlines to the effect that passengers wishing to board at gate X must now proceed to gate Y whilst passengers wishing to "undergo boarding procedures" at gate C must now potter off to gate D and those at gate D must get along with all due haste to gate E.

It was not specified where the previous would-be boarders at gate E should go. Then other announcements came through about delays in flights from Durban, PE and Cape Town, owing to "rotational difficulties", lawd alone knows what that could mean.

At one time I thought of marching over the public announcement system, assuming I could find it and putting someone on the spot about the exact nature of this rotational problem. It was a case of people using phrases as a means of obfuscating the facts, whatever their unpalatable nature might have been.

As you may imagine, all of this resulted in a great deal of charging back and forth by vast numbers of people weighed down with luggage, squawking children and a disgruntled mien.

I heard an American proclaiming that he was now totally unsure what the heck was going on, and someone had to help him, having made sense of the various instructions and counter-instructions. The man went on his baffled way, I hope he got to where he was intending to go, after all that.

(It's funny how when we are made to wait for hours on end to get from A to B, we are not reimbursed or compensated yet if we miss a flight and have to go on standby, book another flight or upgrade, there is automatically a fee involved.)

Stuck in the mud

So while we were stuck on the tarmac waiting for the queue of twenty five aeroplanes to move in or out so we could leave, the mood on board became decidedly bolshy after about an hour had passed.

The plane was hot and stuffy and people were getting fidgety stuck in their narrow seats elbow to elbow with strangers and the feeling that we were not going anywhere. Well, we were not going anywhere.

Someone asked for water and the cabin attendant said she could not give us food or water at that stage. No explanation was given for this odd reply. I felt that the thing was beginning to take on hellish aspects such as were experienced during the Entebbe Raid in Uganda in the Seventies.

Eventually other voices chimed in, asking for water at least, and at last water and juices were brought around. After that people cheered up and started sharing newspapers, cell phones, and magazines.

Every time another announcement was made by the captain about the plane being due to leave at any time, hoots of derision were heard throughout the cabin and a sardonic clapping was taken up from the back, coming forward in a rebellious Mexican Wave effect. I almost expected to hear the "how the hell can we belieeeeve you" song starting up.

There was a foreign couple on board, from Eastern Europe, and they looked nonplussed at the apparent cheeriness; since they could not understand a word of English, presumably they thought our departure was imminent every time a sarcastic cheer went up.

Poor blighters. It was bad enough for us.

Send your comments to Colleen.

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