We should have listened to all our friends who warned us about Iberia* Airlines while booking our tickets to Europe. My strangest experiences with airlines have normally been with Air Zimbabwe: “Our pilot is missing… His wife is having his baby. We hope. Now, to find a substitute.”
We make our flight just in time. Our passports are missing the permanent residence stamps, ensuring the immigration officers can take out their 10pm frustrations on us.
“Why don’t you have the stamp?” says the officer with the overdone eyebrows.
“Because Home Affairs is always striking!” is my brother’s stern reply.
“That’s not true! That’s not all we do in South Africa!” she snaps back.
My brother and I pass through after apologising, but my mother and granny are held hostage in their wheelchairs on the other side for granny’s overstayed welcome. She has been living with us for over two years and her passport is as clean as a new one. Oops…
“Your maKoko is an alien in the republic. An illegal one!” continues the eyebrows lady. It is hard to keep a straight face, as her two eyebrows are unevenly emotional. One looks at us surprised, while the other looks angry and ready to melt in 30 degrees.
Out of breath and finally on the plane, we are greeted by friendly Spanish airhostesses.
Ten minutes later, a Don Juan arrives, his black sideburns dripping with sweat. His gelled black curly locks are held perfectly in place.
“I apologise! Sorry! Por favor!” he says in a thick Spanish accent to the passengers and crew.
The captain greets us in Spanish and English. All seems fine at first. We drive about the airstrip for a lengthy thirty minutes. Then stop. The captain does not speak to us for another two hours. He mumbles something in Spanish. All the Spanish-speaking families and couples start to look restless and grab their bags in the compartments.
“Oh my God!” says a bilingual lady from Wales, “We might not take off!”
For another hour, all we hear is static from the cockpit. Finally, the captain translates what he said earlier into soft, broken English: “Well…Um… I suspect… Well… actually… I don’t… Hmmm… I don‘t know what to tell you!”
We all look at each other confused. He continues, even softer, with two dreaded words: “Engine failure.”
He mumbles again in Spanish. At 2:30 am, we are finally told to leave the plane. The families set to go from Madrid to Cuba start swearing in Spanish. The man with his arm wrapped in a torn plaster tells us in shock: “I have operation tomorrow.”
My mother’s neighbour wonders about her little dogs below. The tranquilizers only work for twelve hours.
We all fight to get off-board first in order to get the best hotel rooms. At the OR Tambo’s Intercontinental Hotel, we are told to let women and children pass through first. The old men twitch and fight with their wives:
“Just go! Go!” says a husband whose wife won’t let go of his arm.
My brother and I somehow get separated from our family. We are mistaken for pushing in, our two over-sized trolleys budging people out of the way.
“Hey! Hey!” scream a few people we ignore.
Our trolleys continue to make way to our granny on the other side. She’s tired and disorientated as they shove her into the shuttle to take her to the hotel in Boksburg. We are too late. Granny and mom wave to us from the combi as we battle it out with angry Iberia passengers.
One man in a coral jersey casually makes his way in front of us. His wife follows after. Soon we are blocked off from the other passengers and the queue increases next to us. We are punished like naughty school kids. I lose patience and tell the man he has no right to do such a thing. He gives a sly grin that pisses me off further and “accidentally” drops my bag to the floor. I shout at him. He ignores me. Somehow, at 3:30am, I lose all inhibitions and gently knock my trolley into him. I feel terrible and my brother and two others stop us before things get worse.
“Calm down! Calm down!” a hotelier tells us.
At last, two taxis arrive to fetch us, but the hotelier tries to scare us off from using either: “Those are public. You will use them at your own risk for R30.”
At 4am, we couldn’t care less. My brother and I push forth to the front, to the ‘dangerous’ public transport.
“Sorry for you!” we tell the man in the coral jersey. Everyone laughs. It is indeed a series of unfortunate events. The hotelier is quite right. The driver drives like mad to Birchwood in Boksburg. We, at last, wriggle into new bedsheets, unbeknown to the storm of complaints Iberia will face tomorrow…
*Iberia is not necessarily a bad airline, just numerous friends have complained about weird experiences with them, including the 230 passengers on this particular flight.