Travels With Myself

A Personalized Periodic Update, just for my family and friends, of the Ongoing Adventures of Your Favorite World Traveler

Name:
Location: Budapest, Hungary

After nearly 30 years in the financial industry in the US (mostly California and New Mexico), I decided it was time for my second life. I sold my house, sold my car, sold all my furniture, took a TEFL course and moved to Budapest to teach Business English to the business people of Hungary. Amazing mid-life change! I taught for about eight years, then pretty much retired. Now I travel extensively, and have been to more than 65 countries. I have had six books published, mostly about my travels - see my author's page on amazon.com. I have made friends from all over the world. Becoming an expat is the best move I ever made and I plan to continue my travels indefinitely. Come join me on this blog and enjoy the places I've been and the people I've met, past, present and hopefully in the future.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cape Town Follies - Episode One



The Airlines Strike Back!

So, I went to South Africa. Winter still had its icy grip on Budapest; in early February the overnight temperature was a startling minus 15 degrees Celsius, which is as close to zero degrees Fahrenheit as I choose to get these days. Too damn cold for me. Obviously, a visit to warmer climes was in order. But where to go? The Mediterranean area was always nice, but not quite warm enough at this time of year. North Africa, maybe, but I’d done almost all of the coastal areas I could do. Central Africa? Too much planning, shots, and not enough to do aside from sightseeing the natural wonders of the area.
Hmmm, how about South Africa? I’d heard Johannesburg was rather iffy these days, lots of problems and crime and danger, so obviously not for me. But I had acquaintances from Cape Town and they were always telling me I should go there. I did some research online and found, hey, it looks like a fun place to go. And it’s warm, with temperatures hanging around 28 degrees C (or 82 degrees F). Lots to do, beaches, day tours, city action; why not? So I checked my favorite travel website, Expedia.com, and found a really excellent deal combining airfare (two stops) and what appeared to be a good three-star hotel right in the middle of Cape Town City Center. My credit card was empty for a change, and just begging to be used. The card I had expired at the end of February 2012, but I hoped my new card would arrive before I left on my trip on February 23. Reservations made, paid for and confirmed via the Internet. Bog, I love the Internet!
My potential problems began shortly thereafter. My flights were booked on Air France from Budapest to Paris (although run by the Hungarian airline Malev) and from Paris to Johannesburg, where I had to change airlines to South Africa Airways to Cape Town. On February 3, Malev went bankrupt and cancelled all of their flights without refunds. Too bad for you! (It was on the same day that the battery in my watch failed, which was strike two; when would the third bad thing happen?). Luckily, my flights were with Air France, an airline I like, and two days later I received an email from them announcing the flight time changes, which would then continue on schedule. Gotta love Air France. First hurdle cleared.
I checked in with my US bank to see when my credit card renewal would arrive and was assured it would be in my hands by February 20. I was packed and ready to go by then, and waited each day for my new card to arrive. Feb 20 – no. Feb 21 – nope. Feb 22 – uh-uh. I was nervous but not actually convulsing yet. Being without a credit card would be inconvenient, but not catastrophic, as I could always get cash from the ATMs. But I would like to have my card as a backup.
I was preparing to leave for the airport on Thursday, February 23, around noon. At 11 o’clock there was a knock on my door. It was the postman with my new credit card. Saved by the bell! NOW I was ready to tackle the southern tip of Africa.
When I checked in at Air France in Budapest I was assured my bag would be checked all the way through to Cape Town, even though I had to change airlines in Johannesburg. I asked the check-in lady twice if that was the case, and she assured me it was. I even saw her attach the luggage strip to my suitcase indicating Cape Town. OK, I didn’t have much clearance time in Johannesburg, but this was one less thing I had to worry about. I checked in and the first leg of my trip was as uneventful as I had hoped. Got to Paris CDG airport on time, walked the quarter-mile from my arrival terminal to departure terminal (yep, it’s a looong way). We got out around 11:30 PM on our Airbus 380 for the ten-hour flight to Johannesburg. After a late dinner, I got some uncomfortable sleep and was ready to make my connecting flight the next morning.
We landed in Jo-burg on time and I raced through the terminal to the main check-in area. Another damn long way to walk/run, and no people-movers or moving sidewalks to help. Just a tiring slog. To make sure I knew where I was going, I stopped at the Information Desk next to the baggage claim area to enquire about the location of the South Africa Airways check-in desk. The young woman was friendly and helpful and gave me directions, but she then told me that, if I had just arrived on the Air France flight from Paris, I would have to pick up my bag and re-check it in with South Africa Airways.
WHAT?! I sputteringly told her I was assured my bag was checked through to Cape Town. She just looked at me commiseratingly and said, Nope, gotta get your bag here and check it in again. Well, scheisse! Trapped. It was then around 11:30, and my flight was due to leave at 12:30. Not much time left. I waited and waited and finally got my bag and raced off to find the South Africa (SA) Airways desk.
The Johannesburg airport must have a lot of problems of this type, as there were ‘helpers’ everywhere, eager to guide you to the right desk or line for just a small token of your appreciation. And believe, me, they were welcome at that point. So, young black man gathers me in and takes me through the main terminal area, up two flights of escalators to the top floor check-in area and finds a woman helping travelers at the self-service check-in machines. She enters my information, looks at me and says, “This flight’s closed.”
Aaaarrrggghhh!!! No, this can’t be happening! Not to me! I’ve only ever missed one connecting flight in more than 50 years of air travel, and this won’t be the next one! My helper grabbed me by the arm and whisked me off to a line for Baggage Drop-Off Only. It seemed I should have gone to the SA desk, but he was adamant, so I waited and got to the drop-off desk and the young woman checked my bag in and gave me a boarding pass for my flight! Wonder of wonders.
Of course, it was now nearly noon, and we know how the airlines love to close their boarding early, just to frustrate the last-minute arrivals. As we ran across the terminal and approached the screening lines, my helper looked back at me, said, “Come!,” and proceeded to hustle me through the lines all the way to the front. When we got there, the pre-screener looked at my ticket and said, “Oh, this flight departs at one o’clock.” Since it was then 12:05, I was relieved, to say the least.
I gave my helper 5 euro (he did help me, after all) and, since I was already at the head of the line, proceeded through the screening area. I found my gate and noticed people were boarding. Hmmm. I joined the end of the line and when I got to the front inquired if this was the right flight. Yep, it was, and I boarded without a problem. Lucky me. Of course, my seat assignment was 32F, which is the window seat on the right side in the very last row. I had the very last seat on the plane.
During the two-hour flight to Cape Town I had a nice conversation with the Englishman in seat 32E next to me; he worked for a Canadian company as a construction engineer and was presently finishing a project in Johannesburg, on his way to Cape Town for a relaxing weekend. I was hot and sweaty and tired, but I was on the last leg to Cape Town, and that was all that really mattered.

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