As luck would have it, the day of the international news headline Nairobi airport fire… was the day my family and I were supposed to fly out of Kenya.
My family’s route deserves a post of its own. They eventually made it out a few days later. I ended up having to wait until the following Tuesday, 6 days after my planned departure, to fly out.
My friends and my colleagues like to use this statement: “You can’t make this stuff up.” Often in reference to an experience or a story so bizarre it can only be true. My experience out of Nairobi airport, the reopened version fit right in that category.
I gave myself three hours before departure for commute, airport back up, and check in process.. It was sufficient.
First was the sheer traffic getting into the approach to the “terminal”.. it’s jammed and there is barely any length for cars to pull over and drop passengers off. Cars are not permitted to loiter, but given the little room to work with and the likelihood that foreign tourists will travel heavy, delays were inevitable. The cars crept once approaching the airport.. some passengers just unloaded early and dragged their suitcases by foot, weaving between the vehicles.
The drop off / pick up point looked like this from the car:
We had to push/pull our bags through what would normally be the driving in area of the international terminal. It was quite a scenic route. First, the Kenyan Airways checking tent and waiting area, for the domestic flights:
And, of course, I wasn’t going to not at least attempt to get a snap of the infamous building, even with the fire out. Apologies for the blurry nature of the photos.. my p&s was dying with the focus not working as well as it once did, even in low lit situations.. this set of photos would be its last job.
We actually checked into our flights at the actual international departures building. We just couldn’t get to the upper level where the “secure” area would have been. We went to our airline counters, checked in as normal, then queue up for the longest line to immigration.
A few passengers tried to cut the line, especially when an airline representative came around calling for Swiss passengers and that the flight was boarding. Surprisingly, the immigration officers snapped at the passengers who abruptly rushed up, stating firmly that there was a line and they were to respect it. Honestly, it was unexpected in a culture where rushing up en mass was not unheard of. Fortunately for those harried passengers, the rest of us in line told the immigration officer we were fine with letting them go ahead of us to catch their flight.
After passing immigration, we had to backtrack into the check-in hall, walk to the end of the building, and run our bags through x-rays before walking through a rather obscure door… that was where it got fun…
Because the door was normally used by the baggage handlers:
Our “lounge”, and, yes, there was even a sign indicating that, was a large banquet tent pitched in what is normally Gate 9 for the plane to park.
Someone with a megaphone would yell boarding announcements.. most of which was garbled because in addition to a thick accent, he was placing the mouthpiece too close to his mouth. So of course no one understood him. A friend commented “Maybe that’s the point?” Passengers for announced flights would step forward from the tent. Depending on where the plane is, passengers would either walk or be bused over once their boarding pass is checked.
British Airways was the only airline that had its special set up to include an x-ray, after passengers queued up and got their tickets scanned at a kiosk. I can’t blame them. I found the x-ray “after” immigration to be lax. Heathrow and BA had every right to insist on a check. They not only x-rayed all bags, but also selected every second or third person for a manual bag check, which was quite thorough.
I was impressed. Vastly amused initially, but ultimately impressed. Passengers didn’t throw temper tantrums or demanded answers with hostility. There was a lot of confusion given the lack of signs and the gibberish announcements but people were surprisingly patient with the situations.
Likewise, the ground staff were amazingly organized. All wearing reflective jackets, if they didn’t know answers, they directed us to someone who would. They approached every passenger emerging from the secret wardrobe door to ask which flight, which airline and directed the individual where to walk. Not that much of it made any sense, but they didn’t wait to be approached, but were proactive in approaching us.
Our flight departed 10 minutes late.
Dulles and Heathrow do worse in a fully functioning airport with a clear weather day.