Friday, August 03, 2007

A trip with Alitalia – locating surplus bags in Lagos

Our adventures started well before boarding our flight for Accra. Seven days before we were supposed to get on the Lufthansa plane from Zurich to Accra – I was still in Boston at that time – I got a phone call in the middle of the night from the travel agent, telling me that the flight to Accra had been cancelled by Lufthansa. He could not explain why. I then started calling around, and in the end the travel agent was able to book a flight for the three of us one day later than planned from Alitalia, through Milan instead of Frankfurt.

The reason Lufthansa could not fly was that it had started a squabble with the Ghanaian government about landing rights. As it was flying from Frankfurt to Accra with a stop in Lagos on behalf of Air Ghana, the Ghanaian government wanted compensation for these flights, which Lufthansa refused to pay. After a week of squabbling, the two parties came to agreement, and our flight back to Zurich should now happen with Lufthansa as planned.

Our flight with Alitalia from Milan to Accra was quite an adventure. It already started in Milan, when we noticed an excitedly gesticulating lady of seemingly Ghanaian descent. It turned out she had four pieces of hand luggage she wanted to take with her into the plane, and refused to let the flight attendants check in the surplus bags. In the end the surplus bags were checked in under police protection, and an obviously very unhappy lady boarded the plane. Everything went well until our stop in Lagos. The plane stayed on the ground for an extended period of time, and in the end the captain informed us that we were short of three passengers – meaning that in Milan three passengers had their baggage checked in, but did not board the plane. It seems this went undetected in Milan, and was only noticed by the Nigerian authorities. In stern words the Alitalia captain now requested the passengers to identify their luggage manually. At this time the already aggravated Ghanaian lady shot up, and asked for more dignified treatment of passengers. The Italian captain came running back through the plane, reinforced by a few male flight attendants. A shouting match followed, and things started getting really ugly. Tempers only cooled down after some Nigerian police officers (they also might have been customs officers, I could not tell the difference) also joined the fray. In the end the Ghanaian lady and some other unruly passengers were forcefully convinced to take their seats again. In the subsequent two hours passengers had to leave the plane in small groups to manually identify their pieces of luggage which were spread out widely on the tarmac of the airport, once this task was completed, they were let back into the plane. With 3 hours delay the plane finally took off for the last 40 minute hop to Accra.

Overall this was a surprisingly eventful trip to Ghana, free entertainment provided thanks to an explosive mix of Lufthansa’s mishandled negotiation with Ghana airline authorities, Alitalia’s mishandling of the passenger count and rough treatment of passengers, and the explosive temper of same passengers.

3 comments:

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