It was the night before Christmas, and not a creature stirred in the house. Or maybe they did, but I was too tired to hear them. I had been working back to back and it had been so hectic, I didn’t even know which way was up. You hear how we are over 140,000,000 people strong and it is just numbers on paper to you until they all come pouring in from every corner of the world at Christmastime.
This was going to be my last day of work before going off for three days. Off days I was looking forward to. Mercifully, it was only a two sector flight to Port Harcourt and back, and the only busy sector I anticipated was the outbound one, as a lot of Easterners would be heading home for the holidays.
I woke up bright and early on Christmas day and headed for the airport. Christmas cheer was in the air and if you missed that, you could not miss the miles and miles of passenger luggage. Nigerians can shop for the rest of the world and some. Today everything was going fine and I should be done before 12pm. The aircraft was on ground and fueled; catering had been loaded; check-in closed on time – every department worked hard to make today’s flights as hitch free as possible. What no one contended with was weather. In a country with two seasons rainy season and dry season – climatic conditions is an aspect travellers take for granted. Thanks to this year’s particularly harsh harmattan, visibility in Port Harcourt was too poor to attempt landing, so departure was delayed.
The delay announcement was met with sighs, hisses and muttering. One hour later and visibility was dropping rather than improving. The Customer Service Agents were run ragged as passengers badgered them with questions. When three hours later boarding was announced, a sigh of relief swept through the departures lounge. On board no one complained, they were just too happy to finally be on their way.
So you can imagine the reactions when, forty minutes into the flight, the Captain announced that the flight would be returning to Lagos as visibility had worsened in Port Harcourt.
The crew call buttons were going off left, right and centre. Some passengers wanted to know why we would not divert to Owerri which is a closer airport than Lagos; others wanted to know why we took off in the first place; and still others wanted to know why we would not simply attempt a landing; after all they could see the airport. “Did you say the pilot has 20-20 vision?”
In Lagos all the passengers disembarked while we waited for an improvement in Port Harcourt. Almost all the passengers. A lady stayed back and was crying, refusing to get off the plane. She had flown all night from London to catch a morning flight to Port Harcourt. She could have taken a morning flight from London, but that would entail sleeping over in Lagos and she did not have friends or family in Lagos. She had not slept in two days just so she could get home today, and we are telling her that might not happen? “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
I put on my game face and worked the situation. I offered her my phone to call home, offered her lunch, promised to personally give her updates as I got them, to sit with her and hold her hands, anything to get her off my plane. She finally got off, and I did almost everything that I had promised. At 4pm, by popular demand, the flight was rescheduled for Owerri. Later that night I got a call from a strange number. I knew I had a conversation with the caller, but could not remember what it was about the next morning. It turned out she was the caller. She got my number off her father’s phone – she had called him from the airport on my phone. Every once in a while we talked, and she promised to repay my kindness if ever I was in London.
‘Tis the night before Christmas and too many creatures were stirring. I am standing in line at check-in a year later. I took a week off work, and I am taking a vacation to the UK. She was very excited when I told her I would be with her for Christmas. Who knows what she has planned for my visit? Only one way to find out, right? I am hoping that whatever her plans are, they would be fun. And wild. And fun. After all, ‘Tis the season to be jolly.