3. Still in Transit

Not a lot to write about today, except one thing: no sooner did I get through the Passport check in Jo-berg when I heard my name on the loudspeaker: “Thom Hogan please report to the Swiss Air baggage counter.” Uh-oh.

Turns out that while I got on the plane last night, my bags didn’t. 

Now the good news is that Swiss Air figured that out immediately and was being proactive about it. The bad news is that there was absolutely no way that my bags should have missed the flight. Besides being marked with priority customer tags, there was plenty of time in Zurich for them to be transferred to my plane. 

The really bad news, though, was this: the flight I was on from Zurich was the last one for the prior day, and today’s flight—should my bags actually get on it—was scheduled to arrive not long before I needed to be on the plane to Maun.

Now, I mentioned yesterday that the through-Europe routing tends to add a day to your trip. This is one of the reasons why: you can’t trust the flight schedules to align properly if you try to make a Europe-To-Johannesburg-and-onto-Botswana connection: there’s just not enough time to guarantee that you’ll make it to your connection, especially if you’re booked on separate tickets and have to clear and go back through customs.

So let me point out the possibilities: if you book South African Airways from Jo-berg to Maun, you’re on a Star Alliance partner, and should be able to book tickets and baggage through from the US to Maun. If you book Air Botswana from Jo-berg to Maun as I do, you generally don’t have that option as they’re not partnered with any major alliance. 

So let me reiterate why I use Air Botswana: they almost never weigh carry-ons, and as long as they fit in the overheads (caution: 8.5” is the height of those) you’re golden. They also only go by weight for checked bags, not number of bags, and their charges for overweight are modest. South African uses a regional carrier called Airlink on the Jo-berg to Maun flights. Over the years we’ve had more issues with size/weight with them than Air Botswana. 

As for reliability, neither are perfect. Both often leave/arrive late. At the Maun end, Air Botswana is much more efficient at checking you in than South African, which tends to end up with long lines. On the down side, Air Botswana only has seven planes total that can fly the Jo-berg/Maun leg, so when they have mechanical issues, they can get quite delayed. Airlink has more resources when it comes to planes they can re-route.

But either way, here’s the thing: a lot of the US and Europe to Jo-berg flights just don’t arrive on time. Each year it seems we have at least one student whose flight came in late to Jo-berg. So if you try to make a quick turnaround and get on a flight out of Jo-berg the same morning, you can end up missing it. 

And that’s what I’m worried about my bags doing tomorrow. If all goes according to plan, my bags will appear in Jo-berg about the time I’m supposed to checked in with Air Botswana, and the Swiss Air folk can get them to me in time to make the flight to Maun. But if that plane is even a little late—or worse, my bags decide to stay another night in Zurich—my bags are going to have a hard time catching up to me, as I’ll be leaving the Maun airport for the middle-of-nowhere almost instantly. 

The clerk reassures me I’ll get my bags.

Just in case, in the hotel room this evening I’ve spent the time to find the database that’s tracking my bags on the Internet. It took me awhile to find the actual database that they use to track bags [after I got home I discovered it’s easier to find from the US version of the site; from Jo-berg I kept getting the abbreviated site], which turned out to be on the Swissport site (their cargo company). I found that some of the information the clerk at the airport had entered was wrong, so fixed it ;~). 

So what happens if they don’t get my bags to me in the morning?

Well, one nice thing about OR Tumbo airport in Jo-berg is that it has two shopping malls. I took the time this afternoon to buy some underwear and socks, and if tomorrow comes and there’s still no site of my bags, I’ll go to the outdoor sports store after entering through customs and buy a few more things. I should also note that I took to packing a pair of shorts and an extra t-shirt in my camera bag a few years back, “just in case.” Trust me, “just in case” will someday be exactly what you’re experiencing if you travel by air much.

I hope that tomorrow I can get back on the subject of wildlife, but my dreams tonight are likely to be of missing luggage and where it goes on its vacations...


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