Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The not so friendly skies of Arik Air

Okay, I suppose our luck couldn’t hold out forever.

So our flight leaving Abuja was three and a half hours late which led to us missing our connecting flight to Accra and thus were we thrown into the blender which is Nigeria’s Lagos International Airport – set to puree please.

We landed at 4:15pm while our connecting flight was scheduled to take off at five. We’ve made tighter connections but there was just too much working against us this time. First off, Lagos airport is divided into two terminals, Domestic and International. They use the same runways, but the terminals themselves are a couple miles apart. We landed in the domestic and had to make our way to the International for our flight to Ghana. Add to that, even though our bags looked as if they had been checked through to our destination we had to pick them up in the domestic terminal and then load them ourselves into the back of a truck to cart them to International.

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But I’m getting ahead of myself – it wasn’t this easy.

Before we had the privilege of tossing our bags onto that truck we were told by alternating folks in the domestic terminal that we would and then that we would not make our flight, that the plane was waiting for us and that it was not, that there was a 7pm flight out that we could catch and that no the flight was at 7am.

We marched, dragging six bags behind us, from baggage claim to the Arik Air desk, to baggage claim, to Arik Air, to the transfer area where we are told to take a shuttle bus to the International Terminal and then told to take a cab, then told to wait for the shuttle, then told that Arik Air should call us a cab so back to Arik Air desk again – this time we were led back to the transfer area by an airline representative who told us to sit on the ground by the window. This we did. Things could have been worse I suppose – A South African lady we were waiting with told us that the area we were sitting in was a tent with dirt floors two years ago. It’s the little things that count.

It’s now getting to be around 5:15 but people are still saying they will hold the plane for us. Little by little we become a group of about fifteen waiting for the transfer bus to show up. Eventually the driver in his crisp white shirt appears apologizing to all and subsequently and mysteriously disappears for twenty minutes. Things ain’t looking so good. On the plus side – we haven’t been asked for any bribes yet.

Then all of a sudden after what seems to me to be no discernible change in our situation we are told the bus is here, the bus is here! – get moving. Sara and I lurch into the dusty heat outside the domestic terminal and careen with our bags down the steep embankment into the busy road running in front and then alongside the terminal. A cop shouts at us to, “Please save your life! Move to the side!” We see a truck the size of a mid level U-Haul and the folks in front of us begin tossing their bags in. I figured we were to clamber in after the bags and I would have done so at this point without batting an eye. But, one should always count one’s blessings, in front of this moving van was a standard shuttle bus and we scurried in.

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We finally arrive at the International Terminal; get our bags off of the ersatz U-Haul and make our way to the Arik Air desk here. It is now we finally get definitive word from a tall man with an Arik Air badge – the flight to Accra, Ghana is gone. In an instant, so too was the tall man with the badge. We are left standing with a crowd of fifty or so folks who have been displaced by the airline milling about in front of a half dozen empty check-in stations. It is now that I pick up through crowd rumblings that some folks have been stuck for two days! We dutifully wait in place, for the most part,  like the good citizens we are, I do wander off a bit every now and then to see if I can spot the tall man and call Rita (see earlier posts) to ask her to let our host in Ghana know we are not gonna make it.

Then over toward one of the unmanned check-in stations I see a man standing on a chair announcing something to the stranded masses. I sidle in to find out what is up. It is not an airline rep – but rather one of the marooned mob who is trying to rally some sort of uprising to the cheers and affirming grunts of his audience. I am starting to imagine that single line buried on page 47 of the New York Times, “Two Americans missing in Nigerian Airport riot.”

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I spy a young lady wearing an Arik Air uniform who is cautiously watching the crowd. I calmly ask her what we need to do to get boarding passes on the next flight to Accra. She takes the ticket stubs of our late flight disappears (people come and go so quickly here) returns with a couple porters and escorts Sara and me down some steps behind the check in stations where we are introduced to her supervisor, named appropriately, Blessings who turns out to be, someone we could count on.

We are booked on the first flight out the next morning. Arik Air is going to pay for a hotel and grub for us for the night and shuttle us back and forth. Well, in order to wrap this post up, I’ll let it suffice to say it was the second worse hotel we have ever stayed in – first place is still held by a dump in Breezwood, PA. While the hotel was a bit frightening, the staff was cordial; our driver was on time the next morning and our flight was only an hour late.

So here I sit, typing this up at a beach resort 2.5 hours outside of Accra listening to drums in the distance and village children laughing and shouting as they gather nuts from the tree alongside our bungalow.

Looks like our luck might be taking a turn for the better.

kosa010

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