On February 16th, 2017, I boarded my flight to Dubai at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg via Emirates Airlines, but I almost didn’t leave and here’s why:
I left Jamestown (home) to travel Pretoria two days before my flight because I wanted to be closer to the airport and not arrive in Johannesburg on the day of my flight because it would put me under a lot of pressure.
On the day of the trip, I woke up early because I wanted to sight-see before I leave for Jo’burg. After breakfast, my godfather and I went to the Union Buildings. We took pictures and walked around a bit, but around 10:30 am I started to panic because I had no idea how long it would take to get to the airport and how hectic traffic would be.
The distance between Centurion and OR Tambo is about 45 kilos, and by the time we left I had about two hours or so before departure. My cousin who wanted to see me off was already at the airport waiting for me at the airport and calling me relentlessly. I got to the airport approximately an hour and a half before my departure; it was so obvious that I was late because there were no other people at check-in.
I went to the first Emirates lady I could see, she took my passport and my ticket and asked me where I was going (despite having my itinerary in her hands), what I’d be doing and who was going with me. She then asked how long I would be away. She looked at my hotel bookings which were attached to my ticket (my biggest mistake) and said they don’t correspond with my flight information. She then asked to see my return ticket or my employment contract, university correspondence (any communication that explains the reasons for my travels) and I had nothing. I asked her what was wrong; she decided to call her supervisor. The supervisor came and asked me the same questions; I told her to speak to my agent. We called my agent (which apparently is not allowed) and had him speak to the supervisor, She (the supervisor) said the fact that my passport was clean and I had never been anywhere outside South Africa looked a bit suspicious (weird I know). At the end of the call, we were back to square one; it became apparent to me that I wasn’t going anywhere.
I felt so helpless and defeated. As I was standing there will my big bags, teary eyes, another Emirates lady came to me, and said: “Go and cancel your booking because your flight is boarding right now and you won’t make it”. Can I just mention that I only had R400 in my bank account, $300 US dollars in cash and about $100 on my passport card, to say I was broke is an understatement. I was financially unprepared for any penalty fees due to flight cancellations. Another primary concern was that I had already booked a hotel and if I didn’t show up I would lose that money too, so I was ready to die at that point. My guess is, tears do help sometimes or maybe I looked convincing, I don’t know because when I was about to cancel my flight when they called me back and let me check-in.
That wasn’t the end of my troubles, my luggage was overweight, so I was asked to reduce it. My heart rate was probably at its highest, I was sweating (I never sweat) and my hands were visibly shaking as I tried to open my bags and take out some items. Everything was just so hectic so much that I never got to see my cousin because he was getting lost at the airport and couldn’t get hold of me. I proceeded through customs like a crazy woman. I don’t even think they checked me properly because they could see my panic; After getting lost amongst all the duty-free shops, I managed to find my way to the plane.
When I got on the aircraft, I was calm for a good 2 minutes before remembering that I didn’t properly lock one of my bags, and didn’t even get a chance to plastic wrap my them. All the horror stories I had read about bags broken into were running through my mind, but I decided not to entertain such as nothing was in my control. While I was on the plane worried about my bags, I got a text from my agent who told me that the reason they gave me such a hard time at check-in is that they taught I was being trafficked. So the fact that my passport was new (I got my passport in 2015 by the way), I was with a guy, had no work contract, or any supporting documents and no return tickets raised concerns hence they couldn’t just let me go quickly. The whole thing was very stressful but knowing that they cared enough to check if I was going out of my will or not makes me feel better and appreciative. It gave me hope that maybe they do catch human traffickers and that if I were trafficked, then they would have saved me. At the end of it all, I travelled safely, got both my bags in good condition and had nothing taken out of them.