VERY BUSY AND CONFUSING
You have not lived until you’ve passed through Addis Abba’s Bole International Airport at 7:30 on a busy Thursday morning. To give credit Ethiopian Airlines has accomplished an outstanding growth sprint in recent years, and it’s obviously much easier to fly in with another 300 new passengers than it is to process them through the airport terminal. After all when one contemplates expansion the airlines can take a few million dollars, place it on the table, and presto, Boeing delivers a brand new shinny aircraft. On the other hand, to accommodate a major influx of new passengers through an airport terminal requires more and larger runways, bigger and more space in terminals, enlarged baggage processing areas, more ticket windows, enhanced security check points, more terminal seating, additional food outlets, and larger parking lots.
Now, let’s go back to Bole International and realize the growth taking place. In fact, it is so apparent that all around the terminal there is massive chaos at the least, and a near disastrous state of confusion at the most.
So, in view of the early morning chaotic conditions what time do you suppose our flight arrives from Washington DC? That magic 7:30 hour, the time that signals standing room only throughout the terminal.
“You have got to be kidding,” you say.
“I’m not,” I respond, trying to reflect a smile after the exhaustive 20 hours since leaving my comfortable home where there are plenty of places to sit … any hour of the day.
STANDING ROOM ONLY
After standing for nearly an hour, we were able to squeeze into a small space with two seats for the second hour. Then by exercising our best football game plays to maneuver through the mass of humanity we inched our way through a minefield of feet and elbows reaching our gate just an hour before our flight. Now the standing is compressed to where turning one’s head means eyeball to eyeball with the person next to you. A bit uncomfortable as some around me were wearing backpacks. This meant every time they turned to look in another direction that backpack awarded me with a body blow that threatening to push me out of line.
Finally, and say that word with great praise and adoration, the mass begins moving to the gate, and of course unable to do anything else we are moved along with them. To our delight we can see the bus just outside the door. The “bus!” Now you may think that was a misprint … the “bus” outside the door. No, not so. We have to take the bus to our plane. Confused yet? Well, you remember we said this airport is under construction. There are 15 or more planes parked in the distance, all across from the terminal building. Only 8 or 10 can reach the entries to the airport and there are probably 35 planes in need of a passenger ramp. Not sure how it is determined who gets the ramps, but going out it is certainly not us.
HEADING DIRECTLY TO OUR PLANE
As the bus pulls away from the terminal, with us standing of course, I can see the plane I think we are going to on the far side of the “plane parking lot”. In moments we seem to be in a sea of wings and logo’s all Ethiopian, all-big, all-overwhelming, and all nearly the same.
As we approach “our” plane the driver suddenly veers away from it. Does it have some sort of plague, or has he just picked the wrong plane? Obviously we are faced with some sort of miscue. We’ll go with the latter as he seems to be doing a bit of wondering around on the tarmac, now headed directly toward a plane that was on our far right just moments ago. But, suddenly he puts on the brakes, opens the window and beckons to a guy from the ground crew. They talk, we back up and point the bus in a new direction, a plane well off to our left. We pass what seems like inches (not “seems like” it really was!) from the left wing of one of those flying monsters and hope for the best as we avoid the one to run past an incoming plane that is planning to use this entire space to taxi to the terminal. I have news for him there is no room at the inn!
Finally after checking out three planes it seems the fourth one is the one we want to get one. This must certainly be his first day on the job.
As the passengers enter the plane a cabin attendance is there to check our tickets and assure us if we are going to Lilongwe we are on the right plane. In fact there are seats for all of us. Such a relief!
Then suddenly, just as the engines are beginning to expand their influence on the environment I picture two guys in the cockpit. In my mind’s eye one looks out over the runways and says, “ There certainly is a lot of concrete out there. Do you know which runway is E-7? It’s my first day on the job!”