Monday, March 17, 2008

Long-Haul

Yesterday Rico finally arrived back in Maputo after an absolute nightmare journey. First his flight from Brazil was cancelled because the pilot brining the plane over to São Paulo from Johannesburg managed to overshoot his landing and end up in the grass outside the runway, blowing out 2 tires in the process. So Night 1 was spent in São Paulo.

The next morning, after an additional 4-hour delay, the rescheduled flight took off, but unfortunately arrived in South Africa so late that there were no connecting flights to Maputo. Night 2 was spent at a hotel in Sandton.

South African Airways had given Rico a printout of a confirmed itinerary where he was rescheduled on a flight to Maputo the next afternoon at 1:55pm. However, when he arrived at the airport to do his checkin, SAA informed him that there was, in fact, no such flight on Saturdays and that he'd have to spend another night in Joburg because there were no more flights to Maputo that day on any airline. Night 3 was thus spent at the Emperor's Palace hotel or something like that.

Rico finally made it to Maputo yesterday morning, only to find his luggage didn't arrive. Apparently they stuffed the plane full of cargo in lieux of passengers' suitcases, as about half of the flight was in line to file a claim with SAA upon arrival. We had to go back to the airport later in the evening to pick up his bags, as the airlines here don't deliver lost luggage directly to passengers' hotels or homes as is the case in every other country I've ever visited, developed or not.

It was funny watching a man in front of us in line at the SAA baggage desk, obviously on his first trip to Mozambique.

Man: So do you have any idea of where my bags are right now? Are they in Johannesburg?

Woman at baggage counter: Ummmmmmm, no. We can't see any of that information.

Man: Okay, do you at least have an estimate of what time my bags will arrive in Maputo?

Woman: Maybe on the 3pm flight. But you should call before you come to the airport because the flight may be late.

Man: But you will deliver my bags to my hotel, no?

Woman: No, you must return to the airport this evening to fetch them.

Man: You're kidding, right? (several people in line, including me, laughed out loud at this point because we were all to familiar with the situation)

Woman: No, sir. You must come to the airport. This is Mozambique.

Man: But it's the airline's responsibility. At least South African will pay for my taxi to the airport, right?

Woman: No...

Man: This is absurd! How is it the passenger's fault? I shouldn't have to pay for this! Where is the office of SAA?

Woman: Around the corner to the left, but it will do no good.

Man: No, I want to talk to someone.

Woman: But this is Mozambique!

Man: I am from Argentina - it's not so different there - but we manage to provide this basic service!

Woman: Here we are struggling to eat. We are dying of hunger! We ask for international donations! How can we provide this service? We can't be expected to have the means to deliver a bag to a passenger's hotel! This is Mozambique...

The poor Argentine man huffed off to try and talk to the attendant at the SAA office, and the rest of us in line commented about the situation. The man was right, after all. It should be a service provided by the airline, regardless of the donor-dependence or poverty of the country in question. Isn't this type of thing taken into consideration when passengers are charged overhead and airport handling fees and other taxes as part of a total ticket price?

Regardless of the obligations or lack thereof on the part of the airlines, there was something about the woman's attitude that made me feel exasperated and sad. This is exactly the type of attitude, in my opinion, that hinders progress. It is easy to sit back and play "poor me", both on an individual and on a national level. Finding solutions, being proactive...now that requires an effort and an ounce of hope.

3 comments:

Linda said...

I think the male passenger was right but I also don't think things will change in your country. I guess the company thinks you are lucky to arrive at all with or without luggage.

Anonymous said...

T.I.A - This Is Africa

Ali la Loca said...

~Linda - I am one of the most cynical people you could ever hope to meet with regard to "development" work, but I honestly have it in my head that this situation will change. Perhaps it will take 20 years, but I have that vision. I hope I'm right!

~Anonymous - Yes, T.I.A. for now. But I feel like this complacent attitude (we are so poor, we are helpless, we depend on donations, we can't be expected to do anything other than simply survive) - while certainly reflective of a very large part of this country's reality - is incredibly damaging. Of course things will never change if this is the image you have of yourself and your country!

Increasingly I see cases where people *do* go above and beyond to provide customer service or make a business work, despite absolute poverty and other difficult situations. There are people here with significantly different attitudes to the woman at the baggage counter, and it is these people in the end that will bring about progress.