Oct 06

My worst airport disaster: forgotten perfume, luggage mix-up, irate passengers and stolen music

by in Africa, Personal, Transport

Washington Dulles International Airport - photo Joe Ravi

Washington Dulles International Airport – photo Joe Ravi

What’s the worst airport disaster you’ve had? Hopefully nothing TOO serious but I bet quite a lot of you have lost luggage, missed flights or been stuck at the airport due to a strike or major delay. These days, just getting through security can be a nightmare. One of my most memorable airport disasters involved a flight to South Africa from Greece in the late 1980s. It started off badly. My boyfriend and I were flying from Athens; the old airport was on the way to Piraeus and we had left it late to get a taxi. I remember the smog-fuelled struggle to get out of the city and along the crowded, dismal road to the airport, fretting about missing our flight. We got there with just enough time for Mike to get some perfume from the Duty-Free for me and some alcohol for his family. It was not until we were getting off the plane at our stop-over that I realised I had left the bag with my big bottle of Chanel No 19 perfume AND body cream on the shuttle bus. Nice present for whoever found it …

South African Airways Boeing 747 (old logo)

South African Airways Boeing 747 (old logo)

However, the real problem was in Africa. Due to political instability in many parts of the continent, South African Airlines had to fly rather circuitous route to get to South Africa, still in the grip of apartheid. I can’t now remember which airport we had to stop in, but I THINK it was Luanda in Angola. We were one of the first off the SAA plane. We’d been told that our luggage would be transferred to the next flight on to Johannesburg and we were to wait in the airport terminal until that flight was called. In those days the airport was little more than a big shed, with lots of gun-toting soldiers who seemed to have little idea what was going on but were very big on looking important. There was a rather shabby little bar but we didn’t have any local currency so we just found a couple of rickety chairs and prepared to wait.

We’d been told by the cabin crew that the stopover would be for about an hour but that there had been some problems at the airport and we should listen out for announcements.  No-one seemed to know what was going on and there was no tannoy system. Every so often someone would shout out the name of a flight and there’d be a mad scramble of irate passengers trying to see if it was their flight that had been called. We kept missing announcements but, after about three hours our flight was called and we went to the exit to board the plane. As the flight attendant checked our ticket she said, “Did you get your luggage checked on board?” We said no, because on the plane we’d been told it was going to be loaded onto the plane automatically. “Oh no,” she replied. “Didn’t you hear the announcement? The porters are on strike so everyone has to get their own luggage and take it out to the plane.” We looked around and all the other passengers were nodding in agreement and looking amazed that we’d missed this vital piece of information. “OK, you have to go over there to that building and identify your cases. Then get a trolley and take them out to the plane.”

Luggage - old suitcases

Old suitcases

In a huge heap on the floor of a vast warehouse were hundreds of suitcases. It took us ages to find ours, wheel them out to the plane, an unnerving experience in itself and hand them over to the guys who were waiting to load them on. They’d had to hold the plane up for us. The engines were going and the pilot glared at us through us through cockpit window as we ran up the steps. Entering the cabin, the passengers were also looking really angry as we caused everyone to wait on the plane in sweltering heat for almost an hour as we had to wait for another departure slog. We slunk into our seats muttering apologies and keeping our heads well down. By the time we arrived in Johannesburg we were over fours hours late – and very tired.

At the airport

At the airport

These days, you can easily claim for flight delays and it’s worth checking before you fly what the terms and conditions are for your ticket. With airlines like Monarch going into receivership and companies like Ryan Air cancelling flights left, right and centre, make sure you have good cover.  Read my Top Tips for Stress-Free Airport Travel for more help.

PS. On the return trip from South Africa, my suitcase was broken into and all the cassettes (yes it was that long ago) of wonderful African music I’d bought were stolen. We didn’t have insurance cover … lesson learnt.

This article was written in collaboration with FlightDelayClaims4U

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3 Responses to “My worst airport disaster: forgotten perfume, luggage mix-up, irate passengers and stolen music”

  1. From Zoe Dawes:

    Another memorable one was during the strikes of the early 80s when a friend and I had to spend the night at Athens airport as our luggage had got lost and we missed our ferry to Naxos.

    Posted on October 11, 2017 at 5:20 pm #
  2. From John MacBeath:

    If it was Angola, that was a dangerous place to be in the past. You were lucky to get out OK with just a few glares!

    Posted on October 13, 2017 at 12:26 pm #
  3. From Zoe Dawes:

    The thing is, I can’t remember what airport it was, but Luanda rings a bell. It was definitely a rough place and we were glad we didn’t have to stop there on the way back to Greece.

    Posted on October 13, 2017 at 12:42 pm #

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