05 June 2009

A Little Tale of Airline Travel

Obviously we made it back to Bujumbura after the cancelled flight last Friday. We woke up bright and early on Saturday, anxious to get on our flight and get home.

We went to the airport, which was immediately across the street from our hotel. Shortest trip to the airport ever. We had plenty of time to get our new boarding passes and recheck our bags. 

First, someone led us to e-ticket check in. After watching us struggle with the machine for a few minutes, she redirected us to a line of people waiting for a ticketing agent. After standing in that line we were told we were in the wrong line. We went to the line the ticket agent directed us to, and after a few minutes found out that was also the wrong line. 

Third time's a charm, but the line was looooong. Luckily they called people forward for our flight so the wait wasn't much longer. I was checking my watch but I wasn't too anxious about the time yet. But by this time we'd been in the airport for nearly an hour and the time I'd allotted for my last Starbucks before heading back to Africa was starting to be eaten into.

We get to an agent, who is confused as to why we have luggage. We decided to get our luggage after the flight was cancelled and recheck it the next morning. We knew it would take some time, but we really needed and wanted some things in our bags. We had budgeted the time for the check-in lines. Once we explain why we have luggage the agent proceeds to tag it and print out our boarding passes. Yay! We're on our way to security. There's still time for that Starbucks. 

But wait a second. These boarding passes have someone else's names on them and they say "Entebbe," not "Bujumbura." So we push our way back up to the ticket agent. "These aren't your names? Are you sure?" Wait, let me double-check... No! I know my own name. Once we shoved our passports in her face she really couldn't argue about the names anymore. So she printed new boarding passes. We said, "What about the luggage?" 
"Your luggage is fine. It's checked to Bujumbura." 
"No, really. What about the luggage? If the boarding passes were wrong the luggage must be wrong too" 
"Really, the luggage is checked to Bujumbura. But I can't print out new claim checks for you. Here, let me write down the numbers." 
We were incredibly dubious, but time was slipping away and we were starting getting anxious about making it through security.

Secure in the knowledge that we may never see our bags again and with new boarding passes in hand we started walking quickly toward the security area. When we heard a "Hey guys!" we stopped in surprise. One of my coworkers here in Bujumbura, who's been on leave for weeks, was in the airport! He still had one week of vacation left but had missed his flight that morning. We quickly exchanged hugs and hellos and then Mike and I had to get moving toward security. 

The line at security was really more a mass of cattle being herded toward a rabbit hole. We did something we've never done before. We jumped the line. It was now time for our flight to start boarding. (We knew it wouldn't actually start boarding at the time printed on the passes, but we were still cutting it close.) So we pushed our way to the front with our magic passes that said it's boarding time. 

Once we get through security it's clear that I have no time for Starbucks. The gate is still miles of moving walkways away from where the security checkpoint is. So we start jogging.

Finally we can see the gate and we can see a few people still in line to board. We made it! We get onto the plane and start wondering what will really happen with our luggage. And we sit there. And sit there. Apparently other folks on the flight had some of the same problems we did, but didn't muscle their way through the security line. Then there was a bolt loose on the plane or something. It left an hour late.

Nothing to do now but sit for 8 hours.

Of course the bags are not in Bujumbura when we arrive. Fill out papers. Try to explain in broken French and broken English exactly what happened with the incorrect boarding passes. We go home quite sad. Other than a camera of Mike's, the bags themselves are more valuable than the contents in them. But the contents are all the retail therapy I indulged in. It's all stuff I can't easily replace here. It's so frustrating to have spent two weeks shopping for otherwise mundane items like nailpolish and GAP pants and then come back here and not have them.

Yesterday we received word that the bags have been found. If these bags are ours they somehow became classified as "untagged" and never left Brussels. We had to go to the local Brussels Air office and fill out detailed content descriptions. They'll compare our descriptions to the actual contents of the bags and if it all matches up, we'll get the bags back. (Although, the bags have name tags on them, so looking at those really should clear everything up, you'd think.)

I'm not getting too excited until the bags are in my hands.

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