Wheeling my suitcase – out of breath and breaking a small sweat – I arrive at the check- in counter a mere ten minutes before boarding is scheduled to commence. I am Lagos bound, via Amsterdam, thanks to a few extra holidays earned from being stuck in the middle of nowhere by the vagaries of the weather in October. Even though I have had over a month to plan, and pack, I have ended up facing the very real conundrum of having to decide between a pair of blue Levi’s jeans and blue Lee Cooper’s- difficult choice mind, and pondering if a phone and tablet might meet my computing needs this trip; enabling me to dispense with a laptop for the next ten days..
In my defence, a late flurry of activity both at work and in the team I volunteer in at church have contributed to why I have left things this late; as well as the need to travel as light as possible with an eye to not having to check-in any luggage. The plan is to catch the 7.00am 727 bus to the airport, leaving me plenty of time to scale security. In the end, I miss both the 7.00am and 7.20am departures from Union Square, and only have the dexterity of the cab driver, and a burst of speed from me between the drop off point and the check-in desk to thank for making it at the time I have.
The vast majority of the fliers seem to have already gone through – the only other person at the check-in a few desks removed looks Nigerian. There is no further confirmation required when the animated conversation he is involved in with the lady checking in his luggage turns out to be entirely about 7 kilograms of excess luggage. When she speaks, it is in short, terse, Dutch accented words, insisting he has to fork out the extra money required to cover the excess. Given the size of both checked in bags, and his carry-on luggage, my only surprise is that he is only 7kg over the limit, the bulging seams of his carry-on testament to more than a few iterations of the pack, weigh, unpack, reweigh routine.
My plea – delivered in my best imitation of a posh British accent, and an engaging smile – gets short shrift. I am directed with a rather dismissive wave of the hand to try to fit my trolley suitcase into the designated checking spot. As suspected, no amount of pushing and shoving can get it to fit in, the offending appurtenance being the rather large wheels. I return to the check-in desk and go through the process of checking in my bag, more than a little disappointed. Business done and dusted, the check-in attendant’s mien changes into a more conciliatory one.
‘It’s a full flight from Schiphol to Lagos today, on any other day I might have been able to help’. It doesn’t change anything for me I think to myself. Across from me, the other chap has fared no better. As we both leave the check-in counters to scale security we share that pained look of mutual, self-righteous suffering.
No mind them o, them no wan help jare. I nod my agreement, the thought of facing baggage reclaim at MMA hardly easing my mood. Never mind that rules are rules and we both fell afoul of them…
The flight to Schiphol from Aberdeen passes quickly, the snow covered mountains of northern Aberdeenshire replaced by clouds once we reach cruising height, and then water as we swing outwards on towards Amsterdam over the North Sea.
A few seats across, and in front of me a party of eight excitable women sit. American accents are my guess as they chatter continuously. They look like they are having a ball – one is a writer of some sort, her MacBook getting lots of use as she hammers out what looks like a chapter of book, or a travelogue, judging by the pictures she flips through intermittently – a month’s worth of weird and wonderful picture I guess at. From the snippets of the conversations I pick up, their plan is to stop over in Amsterdam and then on by train to some other city I don’t catch.
At Schiphol, I grab my stuff and make my way to the D gate. Just how full the flight truly is becomes obvious when I find the queue in front of the Nigerian boarding gate is already snaking around the corner, with quite a few people already passed through security. The check-in attendant in Aberdeen wasn’t so much of Grinch after all I think to myself.
I have a mooch around the duty free shops; a couple of bottles of perfume for my parents should ease the welcome – not even my black sheep/lost son/ prodigal affectations can absolve me of arriving empty handed. For my nieces, I grab a couple of Christmas teddies, affectively named Ginger and Fred. They are favourites with travellers, the lady at the till tells me. I’m indifferent, at nearly 12 euros a pop, the nieces had best be pleased with them! There is a wait of about an hour after I scale check-in, before priority boarding is announced, and then the rest of us cattle class travellers have the joy of boarding.
Making my way to 37J, i find my path blocked by a slightly older woman. She is trying – and failing – to stuff her carry-on luggage into the overhead compartment. I suspect it is at least a tad longer than the one I was forced to check-in back in Aberdeen. Whilst fuming inwardly, I catch sight of a younger woman seated in 37H. She has her glasses perched on her nose, natural hair all wiry and loose and a certain geekish charm. She is half turned, looking up at the woman blocking my path. Mentally, I start to think up a suitably charming chat up line. It takes nearly twenty or so more seconds before the woman succeeds in forcing her luggage in, and I get free rein to head towards my seat. It turns out that the woman is her mother, and she asks me nicely if I wouldn’t mind sitting in 35H – we’d like to sit together she explains. So much for my world class chat up line – never mind the fact that a few years ago I once spent all of a night out swapping glances with a woman in green.
My reward for giving up my seat is to plump my behind down firmly in a seat next to a quiet looking bloke. He looks the classic upwardly mobile Nigerian – glasses, clean shaven, very short hair and an iPhone which he types into from time to time. We nod a greeting as I detangle my seat belts, dump my jacket and settle in. The slight positive just might be a quieter flight for me…
One of the last people to come aboard is a middle aged woman dressed in blue hollandis who coughs a dry, rasping cough as she crashes into her seat.
I don run tire today, this col’ no go kill persin o, she declares rather loudly, for our benefit I suspect. My seat partner and I share a look and cringe. I suspect she is form the Benin area, my worst fears being confirmed when she hurls a koyo o!! across to someone she spots trying to use the loo just before take-off. She fits just the mental caricature I have in my head of some dour, matronly, Bini market woman returning from a month spent taking care of grandchildren.
After that, all that we hear and see are the last flurry of text messages and phone calls as people get in touch with friends, loved ones and perhaps business associates to advise of final boarding and take-off which is only a few minutes away now.
Waiting our turn to take off with the queue of aircraft waiting to go visible through the window, it turns out my seat mate has flown from New York’s La Guardia earlier in the day.