Leaving on a jetplane – Returning expats coming through
Leaving on a jetplane……..sounds exciting right??
That is until you arrive at your end destination sans your luggage. Our journey from Mauritius to South Africa started quite off quite reasonably though a tad stressfully when we arrived at the airport and it looked like something from a science fiction movie. Staff in hazmat suits, masks on each and every person’s face, half the airport in complete and utter darkness only illuminating the handful of travelers for Flight MK 851 from Mauritius to South Africa. Let’s be honest. Traveling at night already holds its own weirdness factor, add hazmat suits and police presence and you feel like you are in a movie playing the role of a fugitive. Add a hat and mask and you are totally anonymous.
Having been inundated with the packing up of our home these last weeks and trying to tie up loose ends during a super tight lockdown I think I can be honest and say my attention wasn’t so much on the actual departure journey and although I went through the motions I missed a few essential details….one being that the Health Questionnaire should be filled in and submitted online but because of my inability to focus I couldn’t manage that because I kept inserting Cape Town as Port of entry when I had to put Johannesburg…This lead to me being quite stroppy with the lady at the airport showing her why I couldn’t submit it online and why I didn’t have the code for traveling that I was supposed to have received via SMS. Needless to say, I was a bit shamefaced when I realized it was my mistake and I rectified it immediately as we needed the number before we could check-in. May I say that I was lightyears faster doing this on my phone than the actual official helping those confused like us and believe you me….we weren’t the only ones that didn’t manage that form. The good news is once we had the number we were good to go!
With the current pandemic Air Mauritius insists on the following documentation before/for traveling to SA.
- A Health Questionnaire on the government website. Once you’ve filled the form online and submitted it you will need the unique id before you can check-in at the airport. The purpose of the hard copy still remains to be seen as it was never looked at once apart from check-in and only to get the unique number. They had us fill out another copy on the plane which no one requested at any time until now. I consider it a tremendous waste of paper
- A PCR test done within the 72hour time frame, any older tests won’t be accepted, hard copy was good to have because they checked this a few times during our trip
- Proof of accommodation in SA, they asked but never required me to show proof but it seems more prevalent to foreigners entering south Africa
- It’s required that one download the SA Covid App but no one actually checks your phone.
- Foreign visitors require proof of travel insurance in case they need to be hospitalized or put in quarantine if they display any covid19 symptoms. It is however not required by returning residents.
Our check-in went very well, the lady was very friendly and helpful to the max. What did peeve me off a heck of a lot was when she said we could have had 30kg of checked-in luggage and not 1 piece of 23kg as Air Mauritius told me repeatedly about 4 or 5 times when I phoned and emailed them. Something they should think about getting right as it’s very hard to return to your country permanently with the normal luggage requirements in normal times of 2x 23kg pieces. One suitcase of only 23kg’s is the pits. Another big issue for me was the fact that with Mauritius in a complete lockdown getting papers printed to show hard copies was an absolute nightmare. I had to rely on the goodwill of friends to come through for me and I am sure not everyone has that luxury. On the Air Mauritius side, this was my 2 biggest issues. Apart from these we were handled very professionally and everything went very smoothly.
Our flight was super empty. I couldn’t believe that on that huge Boeing we were barely 50 passengers. There were rows and rows of empty seats. I’m not complaining though as I was able to move seats and get a window seat and watch 2 movies totally undisturbed. That was so amazing as it is something I never get to do. We got a huge hot breakfast shortly after take-off, scrambled eggs and sausage served with baked beans which is not my favorite but it’s food. Added to that was fruit-salad, a roll with butter and jam, a custard roll, coffee, tea, and juice. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal after getting up at 3 am Mauritian time and all the while watching my movie.
The arrival at Johannesburg should have been a warning that the rest of the day might not be so uncomplicated…..we were ushered into a hectically busy arrivals hall with hundreds of other passengers having arrived from who knows where. Social distancing signs everywhere but not implemented at all. Everyone had masks on which is good and a few officials were asking to see passports, PCR tests, and taking temperatures before you go through immigration. We got our luggage and spilled into what seemed like a quiet OR Tambo airport building.
That reality only lasted until we reached the departure level where we encountered a level of chaos and madness I’ve not missed and surely have not experienced in quite some time.
Having come through OR Tambo a few times on connecting flights I can honestly say I was baffled by the cacophony that was reigning. We managed to find our SAFAIR check-in counter and to our dismay the queues were horrendous. We spent nearly an hour getting to the actual check-in counter and this is where I lost my temper good and proper. Whilst waiting in the queue we realized the suitcases were mounting up at the check-in counters and it came to light that the conveyor belts weren’t working. People were having to leave their suitcases at the desk and walk away with no guarantee that it was going to make it onto the flight was my first thought and when it finally was our turn to check-in I voiced my concerns very politely to the already harassed lady behind the counter. I wasn’t prepared to leave my bags standing in front of a check-in counter in an overfull and chaotic airport where there is no order whatsoever and get on a plane not knowing whether my bags made it there.
The absolute chaos at the airport was very disconcerting as welcomes go when one returns from abroad and although I am very laid back and very prepared to just smile and wave most days and in most situations, I wasn’t going to leave my bags there and get on a flight. I stood my ground and eventually, they sent someone to fetch our bags and put it with the other luggage somewhere else. Only after I got quite serious and the check-in lady quite affronted. I felt for her predicament as I could see that they were operating under a hell of a lot of stress but I also felt that the request to leave our bags unsupervised in a public space was unreasonable. To my regret, the story unfortunately doesn’t end there. After all this mayhem we barely made it to our gate with time to spare to board in time only to be seated and told 5 minutes later that the flight was delayed. We spent about 40 minutes waiting until take-off and reached Cape Town 2 hours later after quite a turbulent flight, freezing our behinds off being used to tropical island weather.
On arrival in Cape Town, we had quite a smooth entry into the airport, no more strict covid questions and checks as we had undergone in Johannesburg and the airport itself was much quieter and calmer than we’ve experienced earlier that day. However, waiting for our luggage a fellow traveler asked us whether we also received a message about luggage that was left behind in Johannesburg, we didn’t get such a message but low and behold. The girl-child’s suitcase never made its appearance and we were left with no option but to go to the SAFAIR offices to get the lowdown. The bad news were that the luggage did not make it to SA and after filling out some forms we were told the luggage would be dropped soonest at our given address; which to my utter disbelief happened within 24 hours. At the time I did feel so sorry for the poor child, and the dozens of other people in the same predicament. Having once lost my suitcase whilst on a trip I know the devastation of not seeing your suitcase appear. I did never get mine back way back and had to restock my whole wardrobe. It was a very traumatic experience and I dare say not the best way to start life again in SA.
In any event, even after all this and being travel-weary and the teensiest jetlagged we are back on SA soil safe and sound. Not quite ready to tackle life but give us a few days and we will be back at full speed! Ready for new adventures!