Time for another go at travelling after two years worth of Covid-19 disruption. Our first attempt, which went reasonably well, had been an Explore! walking trip to Lanzarote in March. We made that journey on easyJet with masks having to be worn all the way. This was an Explore! tented camping safari trip to Botswana, including a few days in Livingstone, Zambia, and would be on Virgin Atlantic from Heathrow to Johannesburg with masks not required. It should also be a lot more comfortable since, for the 10-11 hour flight, we’d lashed out on seats in Upper Class. 😯 Clearly the money saved not travelling for two years was burning a hole in our pockets.
I’d booked our car into long term car parking on the airport; it wasn’t much more expensive than the taxi fare there and back. We parked shortly after 17:00 with the flight being at 22:00. I don’t like to be rushed and it would give us time to enjoy the Virgin lounge. We were travelling with a friend. She was in Premium Economy but had discovered we could sign in a guest. We expected her at 18:00.
At check-in we were told we’d need to claim our bags at Jo’burg then re-check them for the 90-minute connecting flight to Maun, Botswana, two hours later. Bother.
Our companion turned up an hour late, then the travel gremlins really began. Our Virgin flight was short one pilot [they needed three] and was delayed by an hour while a replacement was found. We took off shortly after 23:00 hoping to make up some time. Not only had we been a pilot down but the cabin crew was five short, just 8 instead of 13, so they were stretched.
On the flight I tried watching Operation Mincemeat but, after a drink or two, the lie-flat seat proved too appealing and I failed.
Following a comfortable night we didn’t seem to have made up any time, landing in Jo’burg an hour later than scheduled leaving us just one hour to make our connecting Air-Link flight. At disembarkation, our companion had been told by one of the over-worked cabin crew that our bags would’ve been checked through – confusingly conflicting information.
Since we’d also been given and completed South African travel health forms, we joined a distressingly long South African immigration queue. This felt wrong and wasn’t going to work. The three of us finally reversed and dashed to the in-transit section. Running most of the way, we made the Air-Link flight to Maun by the skin of our teeth, being the last to board.
Welcome to Maun. Immigration was a bit Heath Robinson but went smoothly enough after completing yet another health form.
We stood by the carousel and waited for our bags. Our companion’s bag turned up before she made it through immigration. Promising. The conveyor belt turned off. No bags – promise dashed. There weren’t bags for several other passengers waiting, either. Confirming that there were no more bags to arrive, we went to meet our safari leader for the next two weeks and gave him the joyous news. His name was Bibi and he proved to be unshakeable, mercifully.
There had been five safari folks on the Air-Link flight, only one of whose bag had arrived; four bags were missing. A further couple had wisely arrived the previous day when one of their bags had similarly not arrived. They had accompanied Bibi today to collect their bags a day late. Not only were four bags missing but also three other safari travellers who were, we surmised, stuck in Jo’burg along with their luggage.
It wasn’t just Virgin baggage that failed to make it. Some of our number had been on an Emirates flight, 30 minutes late arriving also, and that baggage had not arrived either.
Today’s arrivals all spent ages completing lost luggage forms – this appeared to be a regular occurrence – before Bibi took us to change Dollars into Pula and buy emergency warm clothing. This being Botswana’s winter, ‘t would be cold early in the morning in an open-sided truck at 60mph. I had spare underwear and required medical supplies in my camera bag so was otherwise relaxed. A Woolworths fleece and beanie hat fitted the bill. Supplies secured, we continued to our accommodation at the Sedia Riverside Hotel.
Our tour proper was due to start the following morning with the almost 400km drive to Shakawe, on the edge of the Okavango Delta in northwest Botswana. A delay wasn’t really practical. A plan formed following discussion in the local agent office. We’d set off on our drive and another agent would collect the late bags and three missing tourists from the flight the following day (it was a Sunday and there was only one flight). The job lot of luggage and people would then follow on up to Shakawe in another vehicle and join us on the houseboat to which we were heading.
Travel may have technically opened up but neither the airports nor the airlines are staffed and ready to give the necessary service, despite the expense of generous furlough arrangements in the UK.