Tuesday, 14 January 2020

South Africa: If only you knew how we roll


Travelling well
My friends and some I have travelled together with know that when it comes to travel arrangements, I leave nothing to chance. The comfort of travel is just as important as the destination. As I leave my home, I expect things to be just so at the very least, I expect standards, high standards and will not flinch at demanding them.
For my return after a month in Cape Town, I ran the gauntlet of things out of kilter with the arrangements I had made. My return leg was Cape Town – Johannesburg – Paris – Manchester. For the over 12 years I lived in the Netherlands, I have retained my loyalty with KLM – AirFrance, a slight inconvenience of stopping over in Paris or Amsterdam, but it redounds to the loyalty scheme, I can bear it.
It’s easy, not really
However KLM – AirFrance do not run domestic routes in South Africa if you do not fly directly to Cape Town from Paris or Amsterdam, your stopover in Johannesburg requires you retrieve your luggage and use partners they have agreements with to complete the final leg, it is neither a codeshare nor alliance situation, just an arrangement.
I could not check-in for my return flight because the KLM – AirFrance app redirected me to Kulula, the booking reference was invalid. I had to visit the airport to have this fixed, they could only make arrangements as far as Johannesburg and that was the beginning of my ordeal. [kulula is not a separate company, but is a trading name of Comair, which also operates flights as a franchisee of British Airways.
I have much baggage
When I arrived at the airport for my trip, I found out that my queue-jumping access was not valid for check-in, only after security. At the counter, the agent then came up with all sorts of rules, Kulula only allows one checked-in baggage for the hold and one as carry-on.
I was having none of it, the printout from the Kulula sale offices the day before already indicated I could check-in two pieces of luggage. The KLM – AirFrance app said as much too, for all legs. In fact, it would be risible to have a situation where at the point of embarkation you had less checked-in luggage than when you were in transit.
A bit of back and forth with some senior official who said the rules at the airport in our conversation took precedence over the contract to carry my luggage on my ticket. I was about to relent, it would have been easier to storm off to a KLM – AirFrance counter and have this trashed out. I shouldn’t be having that conversation, it should be between the airlines.
Flights of fancy
Eventually, as the preponderance of evidence and facts weighed heavily on the situation, the official instructed the counter clerk to check-in all my baggage as long as each individual item did not weigh more than 23kg. I was scooting it at 22.8kg and 22.2kg.
I made it through security before seeing off Brian on his earlier and on schedule flight to Johannesburg. Soon, it was time to board my flight but something was wrong, there was no aircraft at the gangway of the proposed gate. I was the only one with queue-jumper status, it meant little in the end.
Our flight was going to be delayed 30 minutes before we were told the boarding gate had changed. On arrival at the new boarding gate, more tales and fantastic stories before were told there was a fault with the plane and it had been taxied off to a hanger. I guess we knew something was on.
Terminal déjà vu
Then, the plane was cancelled and we had to board a bus to arrivals terminal where we were to retrieve our baggage, go up to the sales desk for us to be shunted onto other airlines and then the check-in process, security and all that. In all my years of travel, I have never experienced this, and the way the Kulula staff informed us and handled the situation could be better. They’ll score a 6 out of 10.
Anyway, there were some really helpful staff before a good number on that Kulula flight had connecting flights from Johannesburg, we were anxious but calm. One exception was a lady shouting at the staff, it was out of their control and it did her no favours, she was obstreperous and demanding, irksome to say the least.
How we roll
I was booked on a BA flight, run by ComAir Limited in South Africa, I haven’t flown BA since March 2000 just before the DotCom crash. I was allocated a seat when I checked in my luggage, but by the time I presented my ticket to board the plane after security, I had been upgraded to business class. The obstreperous woman thought she was losing out on favours questioning why some of us were in business class. Woman, you don’t know how we roll.
She never got upgraded and she probably stewed through the flight to Johannesburg. We arrived in Johannesburg about 2 hours behind schedule, had some time with Brian before I was on my way back home.

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