The nightmare begins with the travel agent ignoring me for 45 minutes while she synchronises connecting flights for a young black empowerment couple’s third around the world trip
Then it’s my turn. All flights are full. Except one leaving at 10pm and returning at 6am. There are extra costs because they are different airlines. And because I’m booking late. And because I’m spending too few days at my destination. Also, fares have gone up since I walked through the door.
Arriving at the airport marks the beginning of a slow descent into Dante’s Inferno. It looks like a scene from Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman. Thousands of cars abandoned by panic-stricken drivers, pulled over on yellow lines, up on pavements, in the middle of the road.
Eventually I find a parking space in the next suburb and catch a bus back to the airport.
My airline has one person behind the desk and 50 others in front of it. Most of them seem to be children suffering from mass hysteria. Other airlines have four people working, and nobody checking in. I consider changing destinations.
“Aisle or window seat?” asks the check-in lady, winking at me. “Neither,” I say, winking back. “I’ll take the emergency exit.” I notice the nervous tic. She’s not winking at all. I get the middle seat in the back row. I go down on one knee, hug my two suitcases and wave them goodbye.
On the rare occasion that I have been given the emergency seat, the air hostess makes a point of informing all those around me that their lives are in my hands. The responsibility is overwhelming and I am unable to grasp what it is that she is asking of me. Oh, well. There’s nothing like ploughing into a mountainside at 600km/h to get you out of your seat and into the fresh air.
There are two hours to kill before boarding. If this were Miami, those two hours would be spent getting a full body cavity search from a couple of thickset Cuban reactionaries. But nobody wants to blow up my airline. Nobody, apart from the ordinary folk who use it regularly.
So I find the bar and order a beer. And another. After every beer, I move to a different seat so that whoever is monitoring the security cameras will think I am a new arrival having his first beer.
I do this because once upon a time there were three not very wise men who prevented me from catching my flight. They said I was a potential danger to the crew, the passengers and quite possibly myself. I had spent almost 12 hours waiting at Johannesburg International Airport for a flight to Atlanta and only fell off my bar stool at the very end. The more I pointed out that aircraft seats came equipped with belts to prevent this very thing from happening, the more they seemed to not want me to fly.
While switching seats between beers makes it harder for the spies to monitor how many you have had, this kind of behaviour could get you shot in the head at Heathrow. You are quite safe here, though.
Before I know it, the time has come to pass through the gates separating the saved from the doomed. In my case, damnation begins the moment I put my three pieces of hand luggage through the x-ray machine.
I am one of those people who trigger the metal detector irrespective of what I am wearing or what is in my pockets. It’s like a default setting with me. Sure, I have a steel pin in my ankle, but let’s face it, how many South Africans don’t have a piece of metal embedded in them these days?
“Open your bag,” says a paramilitary thug. “Take off your shoes,” barks another. By the time they are satisfied that I am not a religious fundamentalist on a one-way trip to martyrdom, I am the last person to get on the last bus to the plane.
By the time I make it to the back of the plane, there is just enough room in the overhead compartment to squeeze in a pack of playing cards. I am wedged between two people who look like they are fleeing after causing a famine in Malawi.
With my bags piled around my feet, it’s not long before a cabin attendant with big white teeth and small black moustache sashays up to me. He stands in the aisle, eyebrow raised, lips pursed, one hand on his hip. Wagging a slender finger in the direction of my feet he bends down and in one fluid movement whisks my bags away to another part of the plane where the rest of the cabin crew can rifle through them at their leisure.
I turn to the lardaceous blimp next to me and ask her to promise that, if I lose consciousness, she will make sure that Freddie Mercury over there doesn’t give me the kiss of life. Big mistake. The zeppelin interprets this as a sign that I want to chat and proceeds to babble incessantly from takeoff to landing.
Later, at cruising altitude, the pilot saunters down the aisle in his shiny black shoes, dripping gold braid and oozing charm all over the single female passengers. For airborne taxi drivers who work in the public transport sector, pilots are delusional to a disturbing degree. They think they are astronauts.
Fortunately, not all pilots suffer from the Shuttleworth-God complex. There are those who guzzle double brandies until sunrise and then stall the plane on the runway, getting themselves banished to the domestic redeye routes where everyone is drunk and nobody really cares if they live or die.
The meal arrives and I have to eat it with little arms, like a Tyrannosaurus Rex. There is not even enough food to make a bulimic throw up so I order more beer and focus on sending hate waves to the young mother in 24C.
Women with babies should be banned from flying. Either that, or there should be crèche facilities for them in the hold. I don’t pay filthy amounts of money to have a colicky blob destroy my central nervous system by screaming from one airport to another. And I don’t care if its poor little ears hurt. I also get pressure in the head but you don’t hear me carrying on like that.
Put men and women together in a combined space for anything longer than half an hour and someone is going to try to have sex. Airlines need to start encouraging passengers to join the Mile High Club by providing a tastefully decorated booth at the rear of the plane. I’m surprised Richard Branson hasn’t done it yet. It’s blindingly obvious that an airline called Virgin should reward its passengers with Frequent Fornicator Miles.
Instead, we are forced to risk compound fractures and dislocated hips and then still be humiliated by indiscreet cabin crew banging on the door demanding that we come out with our pants up.
I am not usually prone to air rage because I know which drugs to take to prevent it. Besides, if I had to start, I wouldn’t stop until the last person lay dismembered in front of me. So I lie back, put my headphones on upside down and try to cover myself with a blanket made for circus midgets. That’s when the insensitive feral brute in front of me hits his recline button crushing my kneecaps and causing my beer to fall into my lap. Quick, more drugs. Ah, that’s better.
The last stop on Dante’s Infernal Itinerary is reached when the plane lands.
I am once again the last person to board the last bus to the terminal. They call it a terminal because that is where it all ends. In tears, usually.
I am the last person left standing there. Then, one of my suitcases makes a surprise appearance and the carousel shudders to a halt. There is no sign of the second case.
The Airports Company of South Africa needs to contract out its ground services to the Saudi Arabians, because Roman Dutch law is clearly not working. It’s time to chop off their hands.
However, my suitcase and many others like it are increasingly inclined to wander off and see a bit of the world on their own before the baggage handlers can even get their thieving paws on them. That’s the airways’ fault.
It’s time to chop off their heads.