Anger aboard the plane of chaos

2010-07-11 09:53

We all thought it was a bad dream. I had been asleep, hoping to get some much-needed rest ­after some sleepless nights since the kick-off on June 11.

I was woken up by the nice gentleman seated next to me, with whom I had discussed football upon boarding the plane.

“Elijah, are you aware of what is happening?” Before I could ­answer, he shocked me out of my half-sleep.

“We are going back to Johannesburg. The pilot says there is no place for landing in Durban and he is running out of fuel.”

Talk about a rude awakening. I was astounded. So was everybody else. The passengers at window seats had their eyes fixed outside.

“Is this Durban?” they asked, as if they were hoping the pilot was just trying to play a bad joke on them.

“I don’t see any ocean,” someone yelled.

We were about 40 minutes into our journey, meaning that we were already about halfway to Durban. The passengers, most of them foreign supporters wearing the colours of Spain and ­Germany, went ballistic.

Their fury was worse than that of the people threatening to ­commit xenophobic attacks ­after the World Cup.

In fact it is a mystery how no attack erupted, given that the levels of anger were certainly high enough to reduce Spain’s nickname, La Furia Roja (The Red Fury), to a joke.

“Is kulula going to repay me for my flight ticket, match tickets, accommodation and car bookings?” asked one.

“How come they are not using the old airport to park?” another demanded to know.

“Why didn’t they know about this months ago? They should have tested their systems,” said a man with a foreign accent.

More questions, but no ­answers. Only apologies.

All the pilot said after landing at Johannesburg was: “There has been a slight improvement in Durban. In 10 minutes our operations centre will phone Durban and with a bit of luck we might be able to take off in 30 minutes.”

Cold comfort.

Furious passengers howled back: “No, we are stopping here!”

They were fuming. They were frustrated. A bus was arranged and some passengers disembarked at around 7.30pm.

The rest were told they could depart for Durban in 30 minutes. That would have meant arriving in Durban at around 9.15pm.

From the airport there they would have had to travel to the stadium, which would have taken another 45 minutes.

At best, those going to the game would have got there about 20 minutes before the end. Considering all of this, I was among those who stormed off. But those who had checked in their luggage faced more misery. They were told their luggage was heading to Durban. No word of a refund.

All the cabin crew did was take the seat numbers of those who disembarked with gloomy faces. The delay of the flight by more than 45 minutes was the worst thing that could have happened.

We were robbed of the opportunity of a lifetime: to watch a World Cup semifinal. And no ­refund can redress that.

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