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Opinions of Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Columnist: Asher, Bernard

Afriqiyah Airlines. The Worst Airline In The World.

Good day dear reader. For those of us who happen to find ourselves in the diaspora, particularly in the northern hemisphere, summer is here again. This is widely considered as the holiday season. For some of us (those in the teaching profession) this is the most opportune time to travel back to the motherland as it allows us enough time with our kin and pals as well as some time to unwind from the hustle and bustle that so plagues us in these British Isles. Having taken a break from publishing on this network, mainly because of the excessive buffoonery that dominates the commentary sections that trail articles, I have found it an imperative to presage the long suffering Ghanaian traveller to beware of some of the airlines that ply the London-Accra route. One in particular, the national airline of the so-called Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, known as Afriqiyah Airlines can be confidently labelled by this writer as the worst airline in the world!

My experience with this rag-tag airline happened on the 14th August 2008 or thereabouts. The ardent reader of the articles published on this network will recall that this writer’s father passed away around this same period and as custom demands I travelled back to the motherland with a view to giving my late dad a befitting burial. Having gone through the hustle of check-in at the Gatwick Airport I was confronted with this ogre of a woman who kept bawling instructions at the mostly Ghanaian passengers that had lined up to board the aircraft. My thoughts were however quite distant. Having been away from my dad when he passed away and having been separated from him in the three years preceding his demise, I tried to picture him in the final throes of death and how lonesome he may have felt. Tears welled up in my eyes. ‘How the mighty are indeed fallen’, I mumbled under my breath, while desperately trying to regain my composure. ‘BLAH, BLAH, BLAH’ came yet another bellow from the mouth of this lady yet again. This sent me hurtling back to reality. I politely went to this woman and asked what she had said earlier. At this she turned and glowered at me, her yellowish set of teeth bared and her rather foul breath nearly suffocating me. It was overpowering indeed! ‘How many times must I repeat myself’ she demanded in a rather rude round of irreparably broken English. At this, ladies and gentlemen, I tore into her in a blind rage. I reminded her of her blatant unprofessionalism and downright idiocy. As I squabbled with this evidently fatuous woman, a few Ghanaians passengers tried to calm nerves and beseeched me to cool down as if they had not seen the horrible manner this woman had conducted herself in front of all of us. Being familiar with the persistent Ghanaian tendency to intervene blindly in any dispute without even comprehending the intricacies of the matter, I ignored these efforts. ‘I will call the police, if you keep talking like this to me’ this Arab woman shouted across to me. The inanity of this lame threat caught me off guard. For a moment I thought I was in the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya or in some banana republic. I quickly looked around me to reassure myself that I was still standing in the United Kingdom, the bona fide cradle of the Magna Carta and Habeas Corpus. Assured that I was, my confidence returned. ‘Surely you must be smoking some drugs’ I replied to her. ‘Go on and call the police’, I dared her. ‘We are not in Libya where potentate Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi can demand the heads of people on a platter at his leisure, you know’. I admit that was a bit below the belt but well deserved considering the foolishness of her threat. ‘Go on and call the police’, I taunted her further. She clearly realised that she had bitten more than she could comfortably masticate. And there she left it. We took our seats on the plane and off into the heavens we flew. The flight was supposed to transit in Libya en route to Ghana. What if this woman organised a group of gendarmes to exact revenge on me at the Libyan airport, I thought? We’ll see what happens, I roundly told myself. Three hours later we taxied into Tripoli. We filed out of the plane and into the airport terminal. The arrival lounge was nothing you would expect from an oil-rich country such as Libya. Even Ghana’s Kotoka was by far nicer than this one. All around the arrival hall there were attendants casually chewing the rag and smoking cigarettes all the time with the windows locked shut. It was unbelievable! For a moment this place reminded me of the gas chambers at Auschwitz. We had to wait about three hours for the connecting flight to Accra. At this juncture, dear reader, please brace yourself for the most shocking part of this nightmare. While we waited the passengers naturally took the opportunity to respond to nature’s call. Having snoozed on the plane on the plane I thought I might as well brush my teeth and then use the toilet. Upon entering the toilet I thought somebody was playing a trick on me. This was no international airport toilet! The filth was beyond description. There was urine on the floor and it was actually seeping to the front entrance of the toilets. The stench was excruciating! After scouring the few cubicles I settled for one that was somewhat unsoiled into which I carefully tiptoed. ‘NO’ I eventually told myself, ‘I couldn’t possibly use this toilet’! And with that again tiptoed out of this hell of a toilet and hastily made my way to the sinks to wash my hands. After washing my hand I reached out for some tissues but there was none. Thinking that they may have run out I again tiptoed to the toilets only to realise that there were no tissues there either. ‘Surely this must be a joke’ I said to my self. For a moment I thought the woman at Gatwick had set me up. All the toilets had no tissues. All that were available were a couple of hand held showers located near the toilet bowls. And then it hit me! This was the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya after all. ‘They are Muslims’, I reminded myself. They only performed ablutions! There are no toilet tissues! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! Were these people actually forcing all visitors to this so-called ‘international airport’ to perform the ablution? Unbelievable! Completely dejected and exasperated I shuffled out of the toilet rooms and took it upon myself to announce to all the waiting passengers that there were not toilet tissues in the toilets and as such anybody who wanted to use the toilets should be prepared to undergo the ablution afterwards. A murmur reverberated through the crowd. I sat down and prayed that deliverance from this ordeal would come quickly.

Finally the connecting flight arrived and I squeezed into my seat waiting eagerly to jet out of this horrible place. As the plan lifted off I looked down through the window at Tripoli Airport which was by now fading into obscurity below us and thanked God almighty for delivering me from this most inhospitable airport I had ever been in my life. We touched down at Kotoka to my great relief. As I shuffled from the plane I glared at the pilot and the attendant who had by now lined up near the exit and were bidding us farewell. I felt like spitting into their faces!

Soon enough my ordeal with Afriqiyah was quickly fading from my mind and the excitement at having returned home was starting to mount. After going through immigration I quickly run to the carousel to pick up my baggage. By this time a curious queue was forming to the left side of the arrival hall. Some random passenger declared that the airline had announced that most of the bags had not arrived and that all passengers who had not received their baggage needed to put their names and phone numbers on a list being compiled by an airport attendant. That was it! At this juncture the myriad of emotions that were jetting through my mind were beyond words. Surely if there was a day that I could kill somebody this was it! I looked around desperately for anybody in Afriqiyah uniform that I could accost and strangle. There was none! As I looked around some other passengers had squeezed in front of me in the queue. By this time I was so angry that I felt drowsy. Tears started welling up in my eyes. And then a sudden wave of tiredness swept over me. I felt faint! I needed to sit down. After sitting for about 20 minutes I joined the queue again. After about 30 minutes it was now my turn to put my contact details down. At the desk was a sleepy attendant who was clearly near the end of her shift and was itching to go home. I couldn’t help noticing the thick wad of bubble gum that was keeping her mouth busy. As she wrote down my details her mobile phone began blaring out some hip life music. Without hesitation she casually sputtered a hasty “excuuuuuuse me” and then picked up the phone and started to chinwag all the while with the bubble gum in her mouth albeit now being chewed in what seemed like slow motion. I felt like strangling her! My eyes strayed and wandered all over this lass sitting in front of me from the careless smirk plastered mischievously over her face right down to her feet which was tucked away behind the counter. Her shoes were off. ‘Jesus Christ’, I grouched under my breath, ‘when are Africans ever going to change’? She eventually got my name down on the list and after which I hastily disappeared into the night life of Accra. We were told to report at the airport in the next three days to collect our baggage. Upon arrival on the said day I was told to go into the back office to see if my baggage had arrived. Apparently Afriqiyah had been bringing the baggage in batches. To my great dismay my bags hadn’t arrived. I was told to come back in 5 days. I hoped against hope and strutted into the airport after five days only to be told that just one of my bags had arrived. The other, I was told, would arrive in the next couple of days. By now I had numbed to the inconsistencies and the concatenation of lies that this horrible airline was so fond of conjuring. Thankfully my bag eventually arrived by which time a week and a half had elapsed. A chum of mine who was visiting Ghana for just 12 days received his baggage just a day before he flew back to the UK. A shame indeed!

Appreciatively my father’s funeral went well and I managed to have a good holiday after that before I returned to the UK. As I and other diasporic Ghanaians prepare to travel to the motherland this year, I feel an urgent need to warn all and sundry to DO EVERYTHING IN YOUR POWER TO AVOID AFRIQIYAH AIRLINES for it is indeed the worse airline in the world.

Bernard Asher is a Lecturer of Business Management & Economics @ Guildford. Surrey and an Associate Tutor with the University of Reading, England, UK. Email: basher@guildford.ac.uk