Monday, April 18, 2011

April 18th

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
Despite taking to the skies at least a dozen times per week, at the sharp end of an aircraft, it has been over eighteen months since I embarked as a passenger on a commercial flight, without the forward view. 
Airports are organic monsters, capable of growing new limbs overnight, as well as being able to change the procedures as quickly as a cobra strikes.  Kotoka is no exception!  From leaving the security of the car that was dropping us off, I was ready with my ‘daabi daabi’ sounds to ward off the hordes of ‘helpers’, but, to my utter dismay, the first person to offer ‘help’, when told ‘daabi’, simply said, ‘ok, I will leave the trolley here.’  I was ready for the next confrontation, but there was no need.

I was expecting the usual ‘traveller challenge’ on entering the airport – but none happened.  I was simply waved through the main doors.  Doubting my sanity, I looked over my shoulder to make sure that I was not being followed by some dignitary, but I was not.  The departure hall was busy, organised and clear of mayhem.  With no unrequited attention thrust upon me, I proceeded to the customs checkpoint. 

I understand the concerns CEPS have for certain travellers, and quite rightly so too.  However, as I stood in the line for the customs check, I was pleasantly surprised at the swift professionalism. Upon my turn, there were the usual questions, given the appropriate responses, and a chalk mark signalled the end of the conversation, without any of the awkward requests from years ago.  Smiling, I went on to stand in the queue for the airline. 
Traditionally, in every airport in the world, this can be a stressful moment.  Watching those people with clearly oversized ‘hand-luggage’, more suited to a head-load of a trader in Makola market, sneaking and cheating past the ‘checkers’.  There was one, a few people ahead.  Politely, he was asked to place the bag on a scale, and courteously asked to move some items to his hold luggage.  He tried to argue, and even hinted at an inducement, all in his broken English, for he was not a West African.  The well-dressed young ‘checker’ was not having any of it.  The traveller moved aside and complied with the instructions.  The pleasantness of this transit through Kotoka was impressive, I almost wondered if I was in Geneva!

At the ticket and passport checks, electronic gizmos and professionalism abounded.  Swiftly on, and into the first hiccough.  As I loaded my well underweight hold-bag onto the conveyor belt, it was tagged as ‘quick as a fox jumping over a lazy dog’, and then a man grabbed my bag pulling it back and away from me.  My right hand reached out, but not quick enough, and as I failed in my grab for the fabric of the suitcase, he looked me straight in the eye and said ‘It is OK sir, the conveyor belt is broken, I will send it by trolley.’  Ghana is reputed for its friendliness and Akwaaba welcome, but it has not always extended into the ‘halls of transport’.  However, there was no doubt in my mind, and in my experience, that I was not only the recipient of ‘Akwaaba’ in abundance, but also ‘Nante Yie’, in the most pleasant and appropriate of manners.  However, I have travelled through enough airports to know that my ‘potential woes’ were far from behind me.

Approaching the escalator, to rise to the immigration and departure lounge level, a forceful human arm swung in front of me.  ‘Which airline?’ was the curt and precise question.  I simply answered in one word, and was directed to another weighing machine.  The young man looked at my bag and gestured towards the scales.  My hand luggage came in about one kilo over the limit.  I could simply remove my coat and wear it to reduce the weight to acceptable limits, yet it was not necessary.  A ‘dismissed’ gesture sufficed to permit my passage.  The person following me was about three kilos over and this raised a frown.  Quickly, the passenger opened the bag and removed a pair of shoes and changed from their Charlie-wotties into the heavier shoes – result: problem solved.  No unnecessary requests, no attempts at perverting the course of transit.  Immigration was a breeze, and it seemed to me that all was well in the world of travel. 

Working through my mental checklist, developed over many hundreds of international tours, this trip was ranking in the top three percent, so far. 

Traditionally the ‘duty free’ in Kotoka has been horrendously overpriced.  I have been troubled for a while as to why ‘duty free’ items at the airport cost so much more than ‘duty paid’ items in country!  For amusement to pass the time, I checked out the prices – and found some anomalies, but also some very reasonable offers.  I purchased a box of twenty Golden Tree chocolate bars, to take as gifts, for twenty dollars, that is thirty Ghana cedis – a comparable price to ‘land-side’.  Perhaps my memory fails me, but on my last trip outside, the ‘duty free’ was not so reasonable.  There were, as always, incredibly overpriced paraphernalia of the tourist flavour. I have no worries that the tourist traveller pays orders of magnitude extra for a knick-knack that they should have taken the time to visit a village, or the craft fair, to purchase.   I was amazed at the number of young male Nigerians who seemed to be regular travellers to and from our capital city – seemingly, all in the duty free store! I wondered if as many young Ghanaians commute to Nigeria?

Time passes slowly as you wait for your gate time.  This seems to be a common factor in every departure location in the world.  Perhaps I should sit there to write each week, for I am sure that there are one hundred and twenty seconds in the hour in such locations!  Eventually, the security check moment came along.  Swift, uneventful and polite.  I could almost sense the excitement at a non-eventful departure!

Waiting by the door ready to embark, I did a quick count of heads and realised that there were far too many people in the lounge for the aircraft seats.  A sneaky-peeky at the boarding passes revealed two other airlines also had their passengers sardined into the limited space.  Having sat out a scenario in an East African state with five airlines passengers blended together, I knew that troubles were soon to be upon us!

If the public announcement system had been working, it may have been fine.  Sadly, the young lady, whose job it was to call passengers, had a voice that could not carry over the hundreds before her.  Those in the front lines heard it well and stood up, signalling the lemmings to follow – regardless of their boarding card/airline designations.  This mayhem continued for over twenty minutes of unnecessary delays, which could have been averted with a simple fifty dollar megaphone, as a back-up to the broken announcement system.  Nonetheless, all were eventually dispatched on the correct aircraft with only a small delay in departure times, and few antagonisms. 

So, twenty five years of the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority, and much to be proud of, for this departure was amongst the top ranking departures I have experienced across the world. Ayekoo!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

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