Sunday, January 11, 2015
south african airways. it's vibes.
In order to distract myself from The Big Thing That's Happening Tomorrow, and having now chosen my The New Girl But Actually The Old Girl outfit* already, I thought I'd tell you a story.
I really should be writing this as a letter and sending it to the appropriate powers in the hope they'd actually take heed of what I'm about to say, but then I realised that's fruitless because
1) I'll never fly South African Airways again;
2) SAA is owned by the South African government (I actually did not know this, but that means it all suddenly makes a LOT of sense); and
3) The last time I wrote an important letter, nothing happened. Still waiting, the NHS. I will wait forever if I have to; and
4) I'm fairly certain someone else on that flight would've already done the honours. If not at least five people. (Keyword: SA236 to LHR).
So. Imagine this scene for a second.
We arrive, after a lovely month of sun and South Africanness, to OR Tambo airport. We've packed up all our shit, prepared meals for our child, got into the travel zone vibe, and feel as mentally prepared as only parents can be, for the journey home. We know he might not sleep the entire way, as this time he will be lying across our bodies, but we venture forth in the hope that he will sleep at least some (maybe even most?) of the way.
Regardless, it'll be fine. One night of hell, and tomorrow morning we will be home in London.
We sit down for a meal just before boarding, order a final plate of sushi from the Ocean Basket, and an email pops through saying something like "Sorry folks, we've cancelled your flight, we'll depart at 8am tomorrow."
One of two things ran through my head.
1) Someone has obviously made a grammatical error, what they really mean is we will arrive by 8am. Not 7:20am as originally planned.
No one made an error, because after running around the airport, wild-eyed and with murderous intent, we found a check-in desk that confirmed the awful truth. We would be departing at 8am tomorrow. Which meant we would be flying with a baby all day.
We were too late to try and get onto another airline carrier by this time, and the next overnight flight was only scheduled for two days time.
SAA had plucked their spokesperson from a nearby broom cupboard, for this person had definitely never dealt with a crisis situation before. A mob of angry passengers demanding to know what the fuck; spittle a-flying. After some flustered and excruciatingly general corporate fliff flaff about "sorry but we're not sorry," it emerged that the windscreen was cracked and therefore fly, we could not.
Meanwhile, terror seared through our skulls. Eleven hours on a daytime flight with a child, our child, who doesn't know how to stop moving.
Sebastian doesn't crawl yet, but he might as well do. His attention span - at a stretch - spans about all of 3.4 seconds. He gets bored and needs to do something else, while wriggling, or pulling my hair, or eating the remains of his breakfast he finds in the soft folds of his leg. He is all boy. He is physically demanding on all levels.
We, back at seats 63D and E, would need to entertain this kinetic little ball of fun, for eleven hours. Non-stop. We knew he might nap - on us - twice. Maybe if were are lucky, for 40 minutes at a time. We also had to make sure he had enough food and milk, so while the full gravity of the upcoming situation was beginning to take hold, we walked ourselves off to the pharmacy to buy a bunch of bottled food.
We were put up in a hotel in Isando, and awoke at 5am only to stand in a queue to leave the hotel to catch a shuttle back to the airport.
Eventually - as it was going to be the longest day of our lives as it was - we decided to call an Uber to take us across the highway, basically.
We get on the flight. Sebastian and I immediately fall asleep. This wasn't ideal, as when we awoke an hour later, we realised that was Sebastian's morning nap done. And we hadn't even taken off yet.
It's now 9am; we've been sitting on the runway for an hour.
"This is the captain speaking. Sorry for the delay again folks. It's just that we realised we'd left 35 pieces of baggage on the runway."
Fawlty Towers of the skies maybe. All the lolz. Right? Wrong. We were also in the midst of the rudest staff contingent in the world.
Let me explain. Throughout the now 12 hour journey to London, this is the shit that went down:
Every time we tried to ask for something (er, like what time lunch was being served, for example), we got twice "In a minute, I am in the middle of a conversation with my colleague."
I'm not even fucking joking.
The staff clearly got bumped for the daytime flight too, and made sure we all knew about it. (Like we wanted to be on a longhaul daytime flight ourselves?!?!!?)
They had more attitude than Kelis when her milkshake lost appeal and stopped bringing boys to the yard. They were almost crazy rude.
They looked angry and sulky, and as we were sitting quite close the galley, we managed to catch most of their conversations, many of which included sentiments such as, "I hate the day flights, you have to look after everyone the whole time," and "It's so busy on daytime shifts, I much prefer the night time ones where you don't have to do anything for most of it."
Weren't air hostesses meant to actually like people?
One snapped at my husband for leaning on an armrest so that others could get past, and then telling me under no circumstances could I let my baby sit on the floor by my feet as it was "strictly prohibited."
(I let him sit and play on the play by my feet anyway, I had to. I thought I'd just play very, very dumb. "Oh this floor?" Or "Oh, the actual floor?" Or "Non comprehend des Anglais, wot eez a flaw?" Sebastian doesn't give us much choice when he doesn't stop moving. None of the hostesses saw anyway, mainly because they were "too busy.")
This is in vast contrast to the airline's customer service policy. "Warm and welcoming?"
But the cherry on the cake was the absence of a meal for 9 hours.
We ate breakfast at 10am, and dinner was served just before we landed at 8pm. In between Zambia and France, we nibbled on the canapes and finger foods placed about us. The pages of Sawabona magazine were especially tasty, when engulfed by the methanol jus of a refresher towel. Also liked gnawing on the earpiece of the headset, mmmm nom nom nom.
Eventually - because I was starting to snack on my husband's arm like in that movie about the Andean crash victims that eat each other - the Brit got up to enquire about food.
"Oh here it is, help yourself. We're too busy to give it out."
You have one job. That's to give out food. (And occasionally smile and point towards the toilets).
So many people didn't know it was on a help-yourself basis, and never got lunch. Because we grabbed a couple of sandwiches we managed not to eat each other, or the baby. (Who would've been more delicious. I almost nearly eat him everyday anyway.)
Then, just to top it all off, the entertainment systems started to pack in. I just had mine on the Map, staring it down with my crazy eyes, willing the plane to move faster - please Jesus - over the vast expanse of the African continent. But others were watching movies, and were therefore pissed.
It was at this point we genuinely started to consider whether we were, in fact, on a new season of Punk'd. And Ashton Kutcher would run through the aisles screaming "HAHAHAHAHA, I GOT YOU GOOD, DIDN'T I? HAHAHAHAHA YOU LIDDLE FUCKERS."
But no. This is apparently the vibes in which SAA operate now. I haven't flown them in a while, and the downhill slide into (bankruptcy, I believe?) is almost inevitable.
Look, I'm glad they didn't fly us with a broken windscreen. We all would've died. And given that planes crash quite a lot these days, one must always be grateful that they fucking didn't. Although truth be told, I really thought a lot about dying on this flight. I thought it just might happen on this one. (And at times, I just wanted it to.)
And it's unfair to compare this flight to the one out to Johannesburg. We flew overnight. However, apples and oranges, folks. We flew British Airways outbound, and Sebastian got a bassinet to sleep in (SAA doesn't allow children over 6 months to sleep in a bassinet, and don't stock "car seats," a reclined seat for older babies to strap into on the bassinet area. TAKE HEED. DON'T FLY SAA WITH A BABY OVER SIX MONTHS UNLESS YOU'RE PREPARED TO BUY THEM THEIR OWN SEAT/HAVE THEM ON YOUR LAP THE WHOLE JOURNEY.)
BA supply all this stuff, and are fantastic with babies. While Sebastian slept beautifully all the way to Johannesburg, the poor woman's baby next to me, did not. He cried, coughed, vomited, basically lost his shit, all the way to Joburg.
She was on her own, and the hostesses did everything they could to assist her. They rocked him, offered to change him, find antihistamine, bring him extra milk, you name it. She also said, "I only fly BA. They are the best with babies."
It was like night and day. Well, it was night and day.
What about compensation? SAA decided, after much furore and pants wetting, to give everyone on the flight, a free flight. To anywhere. This was one good shout, and finally got it right at the end, after everyone had had a shit fit about the delay. They also got a capable, calm spokesperson in front of the raging crowd.
Can we fly to Hawaii I wonder.
Anyway. Just thought I'd let you all know about our twelve hour marathon. And remind SAA that they really, really really need to up their game. It's embarrassing.
Now. Back to stressing about my first day back at work.
* In case you're interested, a grey Zara dress, faux fur gilet, and black tights and boots. Not jazzy; but not mumsy either. I think.