Coming up to All Hallows Eve reminds me of a very “spooky” moment with my passport; one that illustrates the odd and scary things that can happen when you are overly “travel tired.”
It’s said the longest flight on the planet is flying from the east coast of the United States to Johannesburg, South Africa. I’d have to agree; no matter how you book it the flight is over 19 hours in the air, non-stop. It’s a bit of a flying marathon, and makes you a little mentally and physically fatigued just getting there.
I was on my way to Namibia with very tight connections (always a little stressful) and on arrival in Jo’burg I had less than an hour to catch the last flight out to Windhoek. Our schedule for two weeks of laboratory assessments had been carefully arranged and there was no room for error in the schedule—so I HAD to make that flight. If I missed it, I would be responsible for throwing the entire schedule off and so the pressure was “on.”
As I got off the plane there was a bright young man in an airport vest asking if he could help anyone. I told him I had a very close connection and didn’t know where I was going, but had to catch the flight to Windhoek. His eyes got big as he looked at my boarding pass, and said, “Come this way madam, you must hurry, they will be leaving and we have a long run ahead”. Of course! He grabbed my suitcase and headed out, I followed with a fuzzy brain and very wobbly legs from sitting so long. We reached the ticket gate (me gasping for air) and they said “Sorry, we have closed the desk for that flight.” I was obviously ready to come un-glued, and he said quietly, “Do not worry madam, I have another way to get you there—give me your ticket and passport, and I will run ahead and be sure they don’t leave you—please follow me as quickly as you can!” In a stupor of exhaustion, I handed him my boarding pass and passport. He jogged ahead and out a side door marked “Do Not Enter—Tarmac Employees Only” and held it open for me to follow, then ran.
Now you might be saying, “Are you kidding me? You handed a young man built like a Kenyan marathon runner your PASSPORT and BOARDING PASS? And went running across the restricted tarmac?? Which South African jail will we find you in?!” Well, yes, I did…and when that realization found its way to my conscious brain I kicked it up a notch and ran harder, determined to keep him in sight even if I couldn’t catch him! We jogged under the belly of two huge planes, around luggage carts, through a garage and a tunnel, and headed straight for a large bus just closing the doors to take a load of passengers to the Windhoek plane. He waved and shouted and ran in front of the bus…forcing them to stop, waving my passport and boarding pass wildly over his head. He and the security guard on the bus had a robust and heated discussion while he blocked the closing door and threw my suitcase on the bus. Just as I breathlessly caught up he said, “Madam, they are taking this group to your plane, please hurry to get on…are you OK?” Completely breathless, I could not answer but shook my head “yes” and could have hugged him. In some moment of clarity, I reached into my vest pocket and handed him the two twenty dollar bills that I keep there—he refused, saying “No, no madam, this is my job to get you safely to your destination!” I pressed them into his hand and said, “You have helped me more than you know, thank you for your kindness, do something nice for you and your family, please!” The bus door closed, the security guard frowned and called me some Swahili name I have yet to translate, and we chugged to the plane.
Suddenly realizing what just happened, I scared myself enough to be very wide awake all the way to Windhoek…
So travel fans, if you are ever on the long journey to Jo’burg, I recommend a very strong cup of coffee on the last leg of the flight. I personally like coffees grown and harvested in Africa…but any cup will do to help you avoid a fatigue-inspired “spooky passport adventure.” If you want a few recommendations on wonderful coffees, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let’s have a round of applause please for a young man who works in the Johannesburg airport for his integrity, his smile and his unparalleled customer service!