As I watch sheets of snow blanket the road, rooftops and trees, I can’t help but spare a thought for the unfortunate travellers ground at Heathrow airport following the cancellation of 200 flights due to icy conditions.
It’s not hard to empathise with them when I recount my experience two weeks ago at Ataturk Airport, in Istanbul ,Turkey. There was snow, there was delay and there were amazingly rude staff.
But my story doesn’t begin at Istanbul airport; it begins at the international airport in Lagos, Nigeria. And as you can already tell, it wasn’t pleasant at all.
Tuesday, 8th January, 2013
My rucksack and holdall are fully packed and I’m ready to jet off. It’s been truly a wonderful time with my parents and siblings, but I must get back to everyday life. My Mum drops me at the domestic airport where I’ll catch a flight to Lagos for my transit back to London.
Even though my flight to London (via Istanbul) is slated for 10.35pm, I chose to book a 12 noon flight to Lagos because domestic flights are, many times, delayed for hours. I didn’t want to take chances.
Thankfully, this time we only experienced an hour of delay, so we took off at 1pm.
I arrive the domestic wing of Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos. Now I have lots of time on my hands. Unfortunately, I forgot to grab a good read on my way out of the house. So what do I do with myself? Sit around in KFC, eating ice cream, playing with my phone, watching passerbys, checking my watch again and again.
3pm – 6pm
Take a taxi to the international wing so that I can grab a bite & be one of the first to check in. The airport is a pot pourri of chaos. The cheapest restaurant I see will bite a fist-sized hole in my pocket – no thank you! I take another taxi back to the domestic wing.
I’m down on Naira notes, so have to go for a quick exchange. Then I’m back in the eateries, killing the minutes. I try to engage my nonchalant mind to produce some page turning fiction. No thanks, my mind seems to say.
I’m back at the international wing. The airport is choked up with people. A monstrous queue for Turkish Airways snakes for metres up to the check-in desk. Worst of all, the queue is not moving.
I’m still on the queue. Drops of sweat travel from the back of my neck to the small of my back. There is no air conditioning. There are no fans.
Finally I get to the check-in desk. The attendant is clearly overwhelmed, and she can’t hide it. She makes a brave attempt to be courteous.
On another queue to go through customs control. There is one giant fan that is jangling noisily in the corner. It’s so disjointed that its head can drop off at any moment. There is an air conditioner, but I can still feel sweat running down my chest.
Military officers – custom officers – I mean to say, order me back and forth. Can’t understand the fuss about filling in some petty details on a form. I’m cheesed off, but I keep my feelings to myself.
I’m at the boarding gate. A long queue has already formed for boarding the plane. Take off time is 10.35pm.
The queue is not moving. There is no announcement. No information. No apology.
We’re still at the boarding gate. Nothing’s changed.
We mysteriously start boarding the plane. We still don’t know why we’ve been delayed.
Take off. The pilot says nothing about the delay or its cause. The twenty -something-year-old flight attendants are brusque and sharp with passengers.
The food? So so boring. Was literally eating the same boring dishes served on the outbound flight.
Wednesday, 10th January
Arrived Istanbul, Turkey, some minutes after 7am. My connecting flight to London Gatwick Airport was slated for 7.45am. Didn’t need a psychic to tell me it wasn’t gonna happen.
First of all I needed to get a boarding pass. The transit desk was jam packed with people. I had no choice but to join the end of the queue.
Favour smiled on me. An announcement was made – all those flying to London Heathrow, come forward immediately for boarding. We squeezed through the queue and got to the front of the desk.
Form a queue, one of the staff told us. We obeyed readily.
Another member of staff came by and asked why we had formed an illegitimate queue. Our attempts at explaining fell on deaf ears. She was jabbing her finger in one direction & that was the back of the humungous queue we had just emerged from. It was either we went back or no one would attend to us.
This was ridiculous.
The queue melted away. I, among others, tried to approach a lone member of staff to ask what was going on. ‘I’m not attending to you!’ he shouted at us as if we were a pack of stray dogs. ‘Join the queue and one of the staff on the desk will attend to you.’ Of course, he didn’t put it so coherently. His English came off much worse.
Now another zealous member of staff was threatening to call security.
I tactfully slipped away and stealthily positioned myself near the desk where I could get audience. A more amiable member of staff was already telling passengers that there were no flights to London till the next day.
I wasn’t having that. Was starting work the very next day.
I stayed put with the member of staff in front of me. He seemed even tempered. Well, until one of the passengers from Nigeria began to ask him why the airline was so discourteous and our flights had been delayed with no explanation or apology. Then he flared up and told the guy not to ask him silly questions because he was not the airline. If his flight was delayed he should have asked the pilot.
That cracked me up in a good and a bad way. Are you kidding me? Storm into the cockpit and hold the pilot ransom until he gives a full bodied explanation for the flight delay? Yeah right.
Anyway, I told the guy in pidgin English not to ruffle any feathers. Let’s just make sure we got our boarding passes first.
Finally I got a boarding pass for London Gatwick. Take off was 2pm. I can’t tell you how relieved I was when finally the plane touched down around 5pm.
I could have jumped so high, my head would break through the ceiling.
I got home around 8pm. I don’t need to say I was drained, because you can imagine how I felt.
I’ve filled in a complaint form online. Waiting for a response.
I must say Turkish Airline has left a putrid smell in my nostrils. That is the first and last time I will ever fly them. For me, they are officially the worst airline in the world.
Have you experienced any travel chaos, or do you have any airlines on your blacklist?
Waiting to hear from you.
By the way, happy New Year. May the year ahead bring many pleasant memories.