I'd had the Sakamanga arrange my transfer to the airport and that went fine, as did checking in. South African Airlink (the Express service of South African Air) could only give me my boarding pass as far as Johannesburg, but did check my bag through, though they discouraged that. Oddly, changing ariary back to U.S. dollars was only possible at the domestic departures lounge. It's not a far walk, but I mention it as: 1) possibly helpful to somebody else and 2) another example of things in Madagascar that don't really make sense.
The problems came after going through security, when they announced that the flight was going to be an hour and forty minutes late. I had just about a 2 hour connection and needed to go to the transfer desk for my boarding pass, so I figured that things were iffy unless my connecting flight was also late. The flight attendant claimed that those of us who had tight connections would be met by a representative on arrival and rebooked if necessary. She was wrong.
Instead, we waited so long in line at the transfer desk that even people who should have made their connections were unable to. After a 90 minute wait in line, I asked about rebooking via London, but just got a blank hostile stare from the clerk at the desk. I asked to speak to his supervisor and got an even more blank, even more hostile stare. Eventually, having exhausted his supply of blank, hostile stares, the clerk referred me to his colleague to rebook me for the next day on the grounds that the Madagascar flight being an Airlink one made it a code share. The colleague said that because I had a frequent flyer ticket, I had to go to the ticket office, but couldn't tell me where that ticket office was. When I asked another airport employee, she pointed me back to the transfer desk, insisting it was the ticket desk. I eventually got her to call somebody else, who told me that I really had to go through immigration and go to the "Voyager Desk" on the 1st level, but it was closed for the night. In the end, I had no real choice but to spend the night (at South African Air's expense). That wasn't really what I'd planned for my 50th birthday.
The 14 or so people who had missed connections were put on a few vouchers for the Don Hotel in Isandro. The next complication was that one woman was on a Malagasy passport and needed a visa to enter South Africa. It took another hour or so for them to figure out that there wasn't really any need to make the rest of us wait for her to sort out the formalities. Mr. Blank Hostile Stare had said we could retrieve our luggage, but when I asked about doing so, I was told that we couldn't because our bags were "downstairs." I put the odds of seeing mine ever again at roughly 50-50.
The hotel was okay, but was in an industrial wasteland of a neighborhood. They offered a mediocre dinner buffet and overpriced internet access. At least they were able to give me a toothbrush and toothpaste.
When I went back to the airport the next day, it was fairly simple to sort out my tickets. It turns out, however, that there is not actually any "Voyager Desk" and, in fact, hasn't been in a few years. But there was a real ticket office with relatively competent staff. I was able to get a ticket directly to Washington (via Dakar), instead of having to go via New York, which was a plus. They also questioned why I was at the airport so early and seemed shocked that the staff at the transfer desk had been so unhelpful.
I also tried to find out about my bag. That involved being shuttled back and forth between several offices, many of them buried within construction zones. Eventually, I got to a baggage services office (past 2 construction barriers and a "permit only" security boundary) where a clerk called somebody and assured me my bag had already been relabeled. I reduced the probability of seeing it again to 30%.
In the end, the flight worked out fine and I got home just a day late. I should mention the security procedures during the layover in Dakar, which are interesting. They come through and lift up every seat to make sure nothing is hidden between the cushions. Then they make everyone take their bags out of the overheads and search the bins. The whole process takes about an hour. Then it was on to Washington. Amazingly enough, my bag did turn up, so some things did go right.
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last updated 6 July 2009