How to lose your luggage, African style

Precision Air Mark I.

We mill around the Arusha airport luggage conveyor belt as it creaks into action. The first bags from our Precision Air flight come out and get grabbed quickly, then… nothing.

After a couple of minutes of nothing, a guy sticks his head through the opening next to the luggage pick up and says, very quietly, “that’s all there is, we left the rest on the tarmac in Nairobi, go see the office” and ducks out again with a brief wave.

He is so quiet, no-one was sure at first what they had heard. Then, as it dawns on us that he did indeed say that, we sprint for the lost luggage office on the other side of the room and form a disorderly queue at the closed window.

About 20 minutes later a staff member appears. He bravely stands on a chair to talk to the crowd. “We had to leave 88 bags on the tarmac in Nairobi, because the flight was too full, the plane was too heavy” he starts, to the sound of hope expiring from 70 people. “There are no more flights tonight, but your bags will come on the flights tomorrow and will be delivered to you. Please line up here so that we can take the reports of your lost luggage and get them back to you tomorrow”. Pandemonium breaks out as he ducks into the office and shuts the door, reappearing at the window.

We discover that he has to take the lost luggage reports from us verbally one by one, while he writes it into the paper form – we are not allowed to write it. This is going to take a while. 45 minutes later, my report is done, and I am only the fifth person in the queue. I get to do fun things like point at a large laminated poster to show which style of bag is most like my missing one. It’s clear this is a regular process. None of us believe we are going to see our belongings the next day, if at all, based on some sound crowd reasoning:

  1. Our bags are in Nairobi, not known as “nairobbery “for nothing
  2. Tomorrow’s planes will no doubt be full as well, so how will our bags fit.
  3. Just about every one on the flight is staying overnight in Arusha and heading off first thing in the morning – for their safari, for their climb of Kilimanjaro, or in our case to join our voluntourism group doing renovations to a school. The bags will never catch up with us.

I take stock – in my day pack I have my camera, my passport, my money. But I don’t have any change of clothes, I have no malaria tablets, and I have no sleeping bag or camp mat – this is not going to be comfortable, but it can be done!

Precision Air Mark II

Having convinced ourselves we will never see them again, our bags arrive the next morning, on the same flight bringing the last remaining people for our tour group. However, their bags do not arrive. Ahh – the airline decided to go for the knock on effect after all! Those bags arrive a couple of days later and do get delivered out to our campsite some hours away. However one lady finds her hiking boots and camera have been stolen out of her locked pack.

Precision Air Mark III

I am flying Precision Air again from Kilimanjaro to Zanzibar. Taking no changes, I carry on three large pieces of hand luggage with almost all my belongings stuffed in them, and check in an empty pack.

I am sitting next to a very well groomed local businessman. I notice that all the flight crew are coming up to greet him, as are the other local businessmen on the flight. I ask him “Are you famous, everyone seems to know you?” He chuckles and says” No, not famous, I am just a businessman”. He hesitates for a second and adds “and I started this airline, my name is ***”. “Hi, I’m Vicki”, I reply. He then introduces me to the Tanzanian Finance Minister who has just come up to greet him.

I sit there thinking that all our bags are probably going to turn up when we get off this flight. I am right, not a single missing bag.

Precision Air Mark IV

A few of us met up again in Zanzibar after our Tanzania trip, and a couple of days later we got together in Stonetown for a fun cocktail-fuelled reunion. Turns out four of my fellow travellers had just flown in that afternoon, and their checked in bags never arrived (and were never seen again). Three of them had done what I did, carrying on everything they could as hand luggage. One checked in her bag. She had to borrow clothes off her friends for the rest of the trip.

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