This segment is jumping back a bit, the idea was for us to write about our experiences abroad and for me that all started in December when I left home for Ireland. The land of leprechauns, rainbows and pubs! In the four months I spent in Ireland it is safe to say I saw many rainbows, no leprechauns and stepped into no pubs (thanks Corona). I don’t intend for this post to be a recap of the time spent in Ireland but more so of my journey getting there.
It started with selling my car. Anyone who lives in South Africa knows that the public transport system is non-existent so having your own transport is crucial. There are no public busses to take you to the metropolitans or tubes to jump on and zoot you to your destination. Here we all rely heavily on our own private vehicles. Once my car was sold the ball was rolling and I knew I had no choice but to get to Ireland. Car sold, job quit, ticket booked, I would rank those as the most daunting part of any trip.
My ticket was booked through British Airways and what a pleasant flight it seemed to be. I would be flying from Johannesburg to England and then from England to Ireland. Considering this journey was to take place as South Africa was coming out of a pretty severe Corona Virus lockdown there were extra steps to be taken to be able to travel. There were forms to fill in to allow me to fly from South Africa, a form to let the Irish know where I would be staying and of course the Corona Virus test itself. All of which were pretty straightforward and completed with ease.
The trouble started about 2 hours before I was to board my fight from Johannesburg to England. After a six hour wait at OR Tambo International Airport the check-in desk for my flight finally opened. Swinging my backpack onto my back and day bag onto my front I headed towards the queue. These moments are always a bit tense for me. I guess its the build up of the nerves and excitement. My turn finally came to present my passport and documents to the stewards at the British Airways desk. By this stage I had seen a fair amount of people making it past the first inspection and dropping their bags off. This may have quelled my nerves which ultimately brought upon even greater disappointment. My passport was checked and then rechecked and then the fateful questions rained down on me. “Do you have a different passport?” eeeeeh no? “Do you have a british visa” again , no?. A million scenarios were running through my head, the worst being that for some unbeknownst reason to me I would not be able to board my flight. And then it came, the words that dropped my heart into the pit of my stomach and made my blood start to boil “Sir, we cannot allow you to board this flight today, unfortunately you will not be flying with us this evening”. Its worth mentioning that my British Airways flight was to depart at 22h55. I had flown from Durban that same day and had landed in Johannesburg at 13h05. I was denied boarding at about 21h30.
Being denied to board made absolutely no logical sense to me. I was to fly from Joburg to Heathrow, where I was to catch my flight to Dublin (here is the kicker) from the SAME terminal. No where during my booking did it state I would be doing a self check-in at Heathrow or that I would be passing through customs. I was refused boarding because I was transiting through the UK without a transit visa or a better passport than my South African one. After using my best charm and sweet talking trying to figure out how I could get around all this nonsense and just fly I was told that there was absolutely no chance of me flying that night. If I did somehow get onto the plane I would be immediately turned around in England and sent straight back to South Africa.
This put me in a bit of a predicament. I was 7 hours drive away from home. I called a mate who was living in Johannesburg hoping I could spend the night at his place only to find out that he was packing his car to drive overnight to Durban on holiday. My next best plan was to change flights. The workers at British Airways told me my best chance was to catch a flight with Turkish Airlines to Turkey that would leave in the next hour and from there I could try figure out my next move. So bags back on and there I am running to the Turkish Airlines check-in counter. I have to admit the gentleman there seemed genuinely concerned for my cause, but alas he could not help either. I didn’t have a ticket for the flight and the doors were just about to shut. Back to the drawing board. All defeated I slumped onto an airport bench and summoned up the courage to call Emma and tell her I wasn’t going to be seeing her the next day. It was a difficult call but we soldiered on. On said airport bench I whipped out my laptop and started searching flights. There were two flights for the following day on Emirates that would serve my purpose. A flight to Dubai at 08h00 or one at 12h00. By this point I had spent many frustrating hours at the airport and had every intention to fly at 08h00. In haste and frustration only after paying for my new flight and looking at my E-ticket did I notice that I booked the noon flight and of course at this point it was much too late to try change the time.
Noon it was. Piece of cake.
I ended up spending way more than I would have liked to at the 24-hour airport hotel but I didn’t care, I wanted a bed and I wanted to wake up on a new day and fly away.
It was a piece of cake. Although I sat in the middle row, in the middle seat, the flight was good. Trying to board the next leg of my journey again made my hands clammy and my chest tight. This time it was because of the Emirates worker checking my passport and documents. He seemed unconvinced of my reasons to travel. He overlooked my Corona Virus forms a few times, stared at the date on my Corona Virus test for many minutes (probably trying to work out if it was still valid as I had ended up flying a day later than expected). After walking away with my file full of paper work and my passport to his co-worker he came back, handed me my passport and waved me along. A massive sigh of relief escaped through my mask and I was so thankful to this man. The more I think back to it the more I feel as if he was just on a little ego trip, seeing how much he could make me sweat. And sweat I did but now all that was needed was for me to pass immigration in Ireland…
Arriving in Ireland came sooner than expected. I was kept company on the plane by a woman that was returning home after living in Dubai for over 10 years. She was my first introduction to Ireland and full blown conversations with Irish accents.
By this point it is only natural for my nerves to spike when speaking to an official. I lined up in the queue for non-EU citizens and waited my turn to talk to the man behind the counter. The whole interaction took maybe 3 minutes. He looked at me, looked at my passport, asked where I’d be staying (he seemed happy for me to make it to Ireland to meet the girlfriends parents for the first time). Just like that I was in Ireland and was wished a great stay. Walking to collect my bag from the carousel my legs felt strong but my knees felt weak. I couldn’t believe that I had finally made it.
Armed with airport Wi-Fi I had to let Emma know I was through. She had just made the 4 and a half hour drive to reach the airport from the South most point of Ireland and explicitly told me that she was waiting for me. Being Emma, she had been waiting at the gate that I was meant to arrive at the day before and not my new gate. Confusions aside, wondering how we couldn’t see each other through the crowd, the penny finally dropped and Emma went running through the airport to meet me at my new gate. It was a great moment.
It will take many years and many flights for me to feel completely comfortable when lining up at check-in points. This is one on those journeys that will stick with me.