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23/2/14: some thoughts on air travel

You may have seen this story in the news about the Air Ethiopia flight bound for Rome which was hijacked by the co-pilot and taken instead to Geneva where he claimed asylum?  Trying to imagine what it would have been like to be one of the passengers - having been scared out of their wits and landing in the wrong city - indeed, country - they were then searched twice over to check for the possibility of an accomplice.  Whilst from a security point of view this makes perfect sense, from the passenger point of view it must have felt as if they were being treated like criminals...

But - did you know that this is the second time in two months when an Air Ethiopia plane has landed in the wrong place?  As explained here, a jumbo jet bound for Kilimanjaro somehow ended up landing at Arusha, about 30 miles away.  Now, I can tell you from first hand experience that whilst Kilimanjaro is a full international airport, Arusha is a tin hut with a run way - it's exaggerating slightly to say that the cows have to chased away to allow planes to land, but only slightly!  Run way was not long enough so the plane ended up in the mud, they didn't have the steps big enough to enable passengers to disembark to hand, so quite some time before things returned to normal!

I have mixed feelings about this second story.  Part of me finds it funny, another part absolutely horrifying that such a thing could happen.  Another part of me again finds this strangely reassuring.  I know the kind of things, both big and small, which can go wrong in the world of education, that they can also go wrong in the world of aviation...  We're all human, we're all prone to mistakes, when mistakes really matter - eg. a surgeon removing the right kidney when the problem is with the left - then a series of techncally redundant checks are needed to ensure everything goes smoothly.  Of course, these checks slow things down, but my goodness are they necessary!

Meanwhile, I made a trip to Nairobi last week.  Actually, to be more accurate, I made a trip to a hotel and a meeting room, I hardly saw Nairobi itself for the entire time I was there.  I went very proud of the fact that I had solved the problem of packing for a short trip in a manner which meant that I could keep my luggage in the cabin.  So, electric razor - although how anybody can look respectable for more than about 3 days without a proper razor blade is beyond me - small tube of toothpaste, roll on deodorant - all set!

All fine except for what actually happened on the way there and the way back.  As you may remember, there was a fire at Nairobi Airport back in August, whilst they bounced back and were operational again remarkably quickly, it is still the case that one has to descend to the dungeons on arrival to go through immigration and baggage reclaim.  It doesn't help that I left my passport on the plane - have to say the airport staff were extremely helpful as I sorted that one out!  Immigration hall was teaming - and then at one stage there was a big crowd behind me in the queue, but by the time I finally reached the front everybody else had gone.  HOW DID THAT HAPPEN????  Of course, if I had put luggage in the hold it would have come out long before I actually appeared, so that didn't work!

And then, on the way back, just as I was going to the final waiting post before boarding when staff very politely but very firmly informed me that they were going to be take my little suitcase from me and put it in the hold.  Very full flight... very small plane... that sort of thing.  I accepted this with a reasonably good grace (I think) - until it came for boarding and I saw a large number of people with cases as big and indeed bigger than mine.  The temptation to regress 40 years and proclaim that THIS ISN'T FAIR!!!! very strong.  But I didn't (unless my memory is playing tricks on me).

So, not quite sure what I've learnt from this.  Underlying view hasn't changed.  Need air travel to be safe.  If it's on time that's a bonus.  Really do not expect comfort, enjoyment, anything like this.  But going other places (normally) makes it worth it!

In brief before I finish: news from the Ngombos in India not good, for details please see Pastor Ahmed's blog.  Let's continue to uphold them in our thoughts - and, people of faith, to pray for them at this time.

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