The “funny” part about trips within Africa is that you are treated as a common citizen of a developing country. Although tunnels are there, they are only used for trips coming and going to Europe or some other lucky destinations. If you are coming or going to another African country, you have to walk. By walking I mean you go over a bridge go down or up the stairs (depending if you are leaving or arriving) cross a couple of planes and some luggage trucks, watch the airport workers perform their tasks, in brief it is a kind of an airport tour that you never paid nor asked for. However, the crew has a bus waiting for them, while we had to walk carrying our carry-on bags (I am so thankful they don’t make us carry our own luggage to the plane).
Anyways, when I settled in the plane and before takeoff, as a measure of health, an insecticide had to be sprayed. The crew member announcing that did not miss to inform us that this spray is safe. “For those who may be bothered by the smell however, they can close their noses” the hostess stated.
I even don’t know how many times I went through the same process when flying to some African destinations. This time was a bit different though because the crew member did not dispose of the container as she should and being the nosy me, I got a hold of the empty container and I took pictures of so I can find out more about this “safe” product.
Apparently the product follows the World Health Organization (WHO) formulation. Although I don’t know how safe is the d-phenathrin but I assume that the WHO knows what they are doing (key word being assume). However, on the instructions, it says that the crew should inform us to avoid inhalation. I never remember anyone letting me know throughout multiple trips that I should avoid inhalation. In one of the flights I even recall the hostess stating “it is perfectly safe”. The instructions are repeated again on the container “Do not breath spray mist” all in capital letters.
The other thing I noticed is that they should keep the empty can and hand it to health/quarantine officer upon arrival as per the instructions. This was the first flight for me where the hostess decided to leave this empty container in the head compartment with my bag.
I know one thing for sure, a container that describes its content as “extremely dangerous to fish and other aquatic life” cannot be perfectly safe for me. So fellow travelers, be sure to not breathe when traveling. Well, at least do not breathe that spray!
For a change, the airplane arrived on time and the check-in process went smoothly. Not a very common practice when it comes to travel experience within Africa. I was booked as a Business class passenger so my frustration should have been minimal.
The short trip (50 minutes) from Bujumbura (Capital of Burundi) to Nairobi (Capital of Kenya) went smoothly, not like the previous one two weeks earlier. Upon arriving to Nairobi airport I headed directly to the Business class lounge. I thought to myself that a nice warm cup of coffee and some snacks will do while I wait for my next flight. Just enough time to play my games and update my status on facebook.
To my surprise, the lounge was closed, so I headed for the second floor alternative which was also closed for some reason. At 5 in the morning, I didn’t know if this was a common practice, so I went down again to the first floor to wait. After 15 minutes of waiting, I saw a moving shadow behind the glass door. I waved, and I saw a young lady waving back. She then headed to turn the lights on and proceeded with unlocking the door.
It was so hot inside, I started sweating immediately. I waited for about 10 minutes and they did not switch the AC on, so I looked for the switch and turned it on myself, then headed to the fridge and switched it on too. Talk about Self-service! The journey continued and I played my games on Facebook then put back my laptop in the bag when I was called to report to the gate.
After checking my documents, I went through the security check. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for security checks because I definitely don’t want to be stuck in a plane with a weirdo who will try to blow us up in the sky. Being from a Middle Eastern origin, the smallest beep made me go through the machine again. Well done security agents, they are keeping us safe! Yet shouldn’t that gentleman and the young lady who also made the machine beep go through the process again?
Since I learned from previous experiences, I carry with me a 100 ml deodorant spray (Over 100 ml is not allowed in most if not all major airports) the agent however, decided that 100 ml is excessive. After a few seconds of arguing, he decided that I can carry it on, as if he was doing me a favor. While I stood to put my belt and watch back on (Their metal made the machine beep so I had to run them via the screener) I noticed they had stopped a lady for carrying multiple fluid containers. Amazing what local language and a money bill would do. The lady went through with her containers (definitely more than 100 ml each) without the arguments I had to have.
It is just a common experience for a frequent African destinations flyer, but don’t let this change your mind from visiting Africa, it is a marvelous place to be.
Airports security is an issue that has been discussed and debated a lot. To some it has become a phobia; to others it is considered a pure screening process, while to the few it is a pure money making business. To each their own valid arguments and refutable ones, to me it is simply about my flying experiences.
This experience has definitely changed since 9-11. The security check was an easier process and the lines were not as long. There was no need to take shoes off and I did not have to take my laptop out of its bag. Nevertheless, I did not mind the extensive security. I certainly preferred waiting a few additional minutes on the ground rather than being stuck in a plane with a weirdo who will try to blow us up in the sky due to a case of a lost love or some other stupid reason.
To be honest though, I did not like being singled out and searched in front of all other travelers as if I am the only potential terrorist. I remember being checked and searched twice while others went through a single process. I do understand that being from a Middle Eastern origin did not make the security agents feel any safer. I remember one time when an agent asked to check my passport for an International flight, the gentleman looked at me and told me “The computer picked you for a random security check” I smiled as it was obvious that the guy was just making it up. Unless his brain was wirelessly connected to a server, there was no way for him to get that instruction from a computer because there was none nearby.
Most agents show a level of professionalism when they perform their tasks while others definitely show hatred and racism. While traveling back to the US via one European Airport, the agent decided he can make a comment in his local language assuming that I do not understand it. He looked at another agent and said “search this veiled woman’s luggage” although the hand luggage has went through the machine he failed to point which luggage to search and they were many. The lady had many bags, carrying a child while the other was crying, being tired from a long flight. This lady was my wife.
I immediately commented in his language “why search her, because she is veiled? I surely did not hear you mention any reason other than that”. The guy’s face turned red, he was surprised, and he definitely did not expect me to know his language. His partner, an equal-opportunity hater, thought he could be smarter, and called the Airport police. He probably thought that it would scare me. The Police showed up seconds after, while we were told to stand to the side. When the police arrived and asked what was the problem I started talking loud so all passengers passing by could hear me “This is pure racism, he wanted to search her only because she is veiled, he assumed I don’t speak his language, go ahead pull the security cameras recording”
This did not make the security agent’s task any easier as people were listening. The police agent wanted to pull his bad cop act and asked me for my passport while informing me that “you need to calm down, you know I can prevent you from flying through any European Community airport” You should however see his face when he realized that the passports were American, not from a Middle eastern country as they all assumed.
The whole issue took a different approach, their whole attitude changed and they were all working on calming me down while the agent who caused the issue was pulled away. They barely looked at one bag and let us go. Is it fair? Definitely not. I was treated differently because my whole family are born and raised in the US and they hold US passports. If I was using my Lebanese passport I am rather sure that their attitude would not have turned friendly so quickly.
The behavior of the few does not mean that all security agents are the same; nevertheless I don’t call my fried potatoes French fries anymore!