Caught in the middle…

By Rafiek Mammon

Last week, in response to Encore of a fortnight ago, someone wrote an e-mail saying how she loves reading Encore – especially the fact that I “complain so beautifully about life in this country”. Compliment? Backhanded accolade? Not too sure, but be that as it may, here is another stint of attractive crabbiness…

We flew to Johannesburg was it last week, or the week before? Two weeks ago I think – at least at the time that this goes to press. Anyhooooo, when we do fly anywhere in the country we try to fly SAA even though they cancelled their direct flight to London, the naughty tortoises! The reason is not really about loyalty to the national carrier, but rather because it does have the best legroom and they always seem to get one of those nice “walk-straight-into-the-terminal-building parking bays.” Kulula or the Mango or the 1-Time aircrafts more often than not seem to get the little “bussie” that needs to drive one from the aircraft to the terminal building, which usually adds at least 15 additional minutes to your flight. SAA also always seems to land on time and, of late, they have offered the best prices as well.

So in short, the “low cost” airlines are not really “low cost” at all – unless they are offering those ridiculously low fares that one has to start booking at 6am on the day that they “go on sale”. However, when you log on, the fares you are trying to book for are never available or, they are available, but at 6.40am and then there is no return flight on the day you wish to return. They don’t have enough flights per day, you see!

By that time I am usually fed-up and easily give up, taking an SAA flight departing at a reasonable time and that can bring me home when I actually want to fly home. The last reason I like the national carrier is that one still gets that silly little meal for free – well, “for free”. You know the one that is pre-packed as a chicken-or-vegetarian “snack”. Oh, sorry, you are all at this point aware that I am talking about flying economy class, right? Otherwise, why the hoo-haa about prices etc? Snack is about the right word…it has gone from a meal that one used to get when flying over the breakfast/lunch/dinner time to a “snack”, irrespective of the time you now fly. Prices have skyrocketed, but the meals are getting tinier…and what’s with the dry piece of something-no-bigger-than-a-matchbook that masquerades as a piece of cake for dessert? Hello?

Anyhooooo…so there we are, all packed and ready to fly back on Friday of two weeks ago when we get to the airport – an hour before our 1pm flight, and we are told we can’t sit together. “The flight is very full, sir. I only have two middle seats for you behind one another,” says the uninterested ground hostess. Oops, they are no longer called that, are they? Ground attendant, I think? Has that changed since last week? Not sure. We can’t sit behind “one another”. Don’t you mean one behind the other? Strange how nasty one becomes when one can’t have what one wants.

“You should have booked your seat on-line, sir,” she continues. So this is what happens – it is Friday, and flights to and from Johannesburg are full. I get that. But everyone now has access to on-line checking-in, which means that those flying solo are all choosing the aisle and window seats, leaving those that don’t book on-line and who get to the airport an hour before their flight with only middle seats.
And, since everything is going that route (the on-line route) it means we are doing the work of the ground staff…we check in ourselves, we print the boarding pass on our paper, and all we do is get rid of our baggage when we get to the airport.

I am still unsure how I feel about this. Am I just grumpy because I didn’t manage to check in on-line and secure our lovely emergency exit seats? Or, am I irritated that we had to “sit behind one another?” Or, am I just becoming grumpier as I am getting older? At least I can say this: Nik Rabinowitz and Gareth Cliff were also on that flight – in middle seats, no less!