The Globe and Mail published the following piece in June, 2014.
Sometimes things don’t go as planned – and those moments often make for the best stories. Tripping columns offer readers a chance to share their wild adventures.
I arrived at Accra’s international airport in Ghana with plenty of time for the expected airport mishaps. In spite of my frequent travel, my flights rarely go smoothly. I presented my passport to the Air Namibia kiosk, daydreaming about Toronto and dreading my circular travel route via Johannesburg, Dakar and Washington. I snapped back to reality when I heard: “You’re not on this flight.”
On some level, I knew this would happen. This trip had been shortened when I found out I received my dream job in Canada. Having dutifully paid a change fee, I assumed – naively, apparently – that all was sorted.
The woman checking me in added insult to injury when she told me the airline’s head office was closed, therefore all ticketing changes were impossible. As profanities raced through my mind, I began to panic. It seemed highly unprofessional to miss my first day of work in the travel industry due to poor planning. But, if years in Africa have taught me anything, it is that there is always a way.
Trembling hands and watery eyes proved to be the key to accessing the upstairs office at the airport, where I felt surely someone could do something. Growing optimistic, I explained my story to a serious looking woman/gatekeeper behind an enormous computer. Quickly, she squashed my hopes with the same rejection.
Sane people would have accepted defeat, but my mounting hysteria pushed me to persevere – with tears. Whether my desperation evoked sympathy or exhaustion, the woman finally listed her personal “change fee:” 3,000 South African rand.
Searching through the depths of my bags, I found some cash. I then withdrew more from the ATM, until my credit-card company suspected a robbery and froze me out. The gatekeeper was highly unimpressed with my hodgepodge presentation of $200 in U.S. and Canadian dollars, euros, rand and Ghana cedi.
“RAND only,” she barked.
With currency exchanges closed, I turned to begging. Approaching each person at the check-in line, I pleaded with them to exchange their rand for my array of currencies – at a favourable exchange rate, of course. Perhaps unsurprisingly, little progress was made.
At this point, things really deteriorated. The clock was quickly approaching the point of no return, and my hysteria exploded. I resorted to an embarrassingly public outpouring of emotion. Finally, with a long exhale, the gatekeeper announced that I should just “give her what I have.”
I threw the sweaty pile of bills on her desk, as she radioed the flight. A truck drove me to the loaded plane, which I boarded – frazzled and without a boarding pass. The flight was, of course, near-empty. I settled in a row of four vacant seats and sedated myself with sleeping pills in hopes of regaining a semblance of dignity.
I landed in Johannesburg hours later and seamlessly connected onward, arriving in time for my first day of work.
This was, sadly, not my last airport meltdown.