I booked an onward out of Thailand, to Vietnam, as of course Ethiopian Airlines was gonna check. I knew it. After asking my Chiang Mai friends, “do you ever book on onward flight when you fly into TH?” and receiving a unanimous chorus of, “No!” I knew that, since I was flying from Africa, it would likely be different. And it was.
Ethiopian Airlines employee, Ugandan, female: “Where is your return ticket from Vietnam to Canada?”
Me: “I don’t have one. I don’t need one. I am required to have an onward/return out of Thailand. Once I’m in another country, my whereabouts is no longer the responsibility of your airline.”
“That’s not true.”
“I’m fairly confident that it is.”
“Let me check the rule book.”
Knowing full well I don’t have the money to afford a return flight from VN to CA, I somehow keep completely calm. It’s probably just that I lack the energy to feel stressed at this point. 4.5 months in Uganda has been enough, even though I’ll miss it fucking fiercely. Damn.
Airline Employee: “See! Look, it says right here. You need a return ticket from VN to your home country.”
I read the fine-print of her rule book that has every visa regulation for every country regarding entering/exiting procedures. The book clearly states exactly what I told her: that anyone flying into Thailand technically can be prevented from boarding a flight if they don’t show proof of an onward/return air ticket.
I realize that I’m dealing with what I suspect is a white person rule. Maybe I’m wrong. But judging by her incredibly rude and aggressive tone toward me, it seemed like she was exercising her all-mighty airline employee power wherever she could.
Thankful I’d randomly given away an expensive extension cord to another male (Ugandan) Ethiopian Airlines employee about 30 minutes prior (based on solely the whim of a voice inside me saying, “you don’t need this, give it away”), I now sought him out as a potential much-needed ally to get me aboard the plane.
Still carrying the extension cord, he said, “ahhhh” when I explained the situation. Apparently this is just how things go. I’m escorted to speak with the head of EA, where I’m grilled for 15 minutes about my plans. I pass all the tests, and he nods. My extension corded escort gives me the signal to stand.
“You’re fine, it’s not a problem.” Huh. I wander back downstairs, where I find out that of course news of this newly granted permission has not been given to anyone who actually has the power to let me through to check-in.
Another hour goes by. I’m grateful that I always make a point of being at the airport early. Eventually the information is transmitted and the lady who was adamant that I produce a return ticket begrudgingly lets me through, with a glare. I smile politely, even with my eyes, trying to connect with her, trying to have empathy for the fact that I’m sure it’s a tough job, and I have no idea what her personal situation is. And maybe she really did think that the rule was what she said, and maybe she doesn’t read English very well, and maybe she had a bad day. And maybe.
The flight turns out to have open seating. This is a first for me: of all the times I’ve flown, never before have I witnessed a free-for-all in seating inside the airplane. The cause, as far as I can gather is that a group of smartly dressed men from Kigali made an unannounced late arrival at the airport, and no one was organized enough to properly process them all. I could be wrong.
This leads, unsurprisingly, to a miscount of persons on the plane — we supposedly have one extra body. Triggering concerns of security issues, the flight is delayed for over an hour while the airline stewardesses make numerous failed attempts to determine who the extra person is. We try helping them, making suggestions including actually checking everyone’s seat number, instead of asking people to raise their hands when we can’t even hear what the question is.
Many people seated (by choice!) near me grumble as they realize they’ll be missing their connecting flights due to this delay. I shake my head and make enjoyable conversation with my seatmate. I feel absolutely fantastic about the fact that I’m even on the plane. Whatever happens from here on out, no problem.
Eventually, it’s discovered that the miscount is because one lady took it upon herself to use the ‘free seating’ policy as her big chance to seat herself in first class. Somehow this led them to miscalculate, likely because they didn’t actually count those of us in economy.
And that was the end to my Ugandan adventure. Entirely appropriate. Grateful for the experience, the incredible friends I met, and utterly relieved to be back in Chiang Mai, where I can ride my bicycle everywhere, eat fruit smoothies from street stalls, and drink yummy hot lattes at any corner. Oh, and run into awesome people every few minutes when out and about. And…
So much to LOVE!