Try and find a film by the title, Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes if you want to laugh yourself silly.
This is a 1965 movie starring such impossible comedians as Sam Wanamaker, Stuart Whitman, Alberto Sordi and Terry Thomas, flyers brought together in the early 1900s to test their new flying machines to determine who is the ace in this new frontier of transportation made possible by the Wrights brothers.
They come from all over the world, representing diverse cultures and world views, from the supposedly philandering French, to the ridiculously stern Germans, to the inscrutable Japanese etc, but all of them woven into a hilarious fabric of nutcases engaged in a dangerous undertaking.
The hop across the Channel would be laughable today if it were proposed as an aviation challenge, but in those days it certainly was one.
There are laughs and to spare. In one incident, an English bobby arrives at the scene of a minor crash involving a Japanese competitor whose legs are entangled in the cables and ropes used in the planes of those days I know not for what.
The Japanese flyer asks the policeman if he has a knife, no doubt to free himself from the cables, upon which the bobby, who seems to know something about Japanese customs, asks if it is for hara-kiri….
So much for those flying exploits of so long ago. These days we have profited from the experiments done by those magnificent men, such that we are able to fly from London to Perth in 17 hours, covering a distance of 14,484 kilometres.
That notwithstanding, some of our carriers can do numbers on you that are frustrating and infuriating.
There is nothing magnificent about me, and when I do want to fly it is to get from point A to point B with minimum fuss.
No frills, just take me where I am going to hustle and try to make ends meet. So, when Kenya Airways say they can take me out of Addis Ababa and deliver me to Kilimanjaro in the north of Tanzania in roughly four hours with a connection at Nairobi, I say hallelujah.
Take-off is at 3am, and it goes without a hitch, and at about 5am we are at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
Those with a connection to Kili are directed to Gate 24, and when we get there we find they are boarding passengers to the west of the continent and we are told to await our turn.
We wait for another one hour forty minutes during which we keep asking when our flight is boarding, and the response is, over and over again, don’t worry, be happy.
But when we feel there is something wrong and we become insistent about knowing what is happening, we are told to go upstairs to Gate 21, and when we clamber upstairs to the new gate, we are told the flight has left...
What? Seriously? How do you mean left? The response this time is, there has been a terrible mistake with something they call “computer feeds,” which I do not quite understand.
There is precious little you can do when in a bind like this one, so you try to make the best of a rotten situation, with the help of a very civil KQ official by the name of N James, helped by lovely ground staff members Lona and Sheila, who somehow manage to keep their cool amid all insults hurled at them by irate passengers.
What are my options? Take another flight that will go through Dar es Salaam and then connect to Kilimanjaro, arriving at 6pm? Take a road shuttle to Namanga, arriving Arusha at 7pm? Or wait and take the evening KQ flight to Kilimanjaro, which will get me there at about 8pm.
All this time, I am thinking of a magnificent slave driver named Ali Zaidi at The EastAfrican, who has already started promising fire and brimstone if this column is not filed by COB.
Finally, I opt to take a KQ-courtesy hotel, and wait for the evening flight. I am glad I made it at last, but KQ need to reduce their reliance on the civility and grace of their Jameses, Lonas and Sheilas and invest in robust computer systems.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]