The “Not-so-smooth” Flight to Johannesburg

Flight plans never seem to go as you might like them to go. Such was the situation with our travel from Washington, DC to Johannesburg, South Africa by way of Atlanta, Georgia.

Our planned flight from DC’s National airport to Atlanta, Georgia should have gone out without a problem. But Mother Nature was brewing up some nasty storms that afternoon and the thunderstorms moving into the area disrupted flight travel for all three major airports in the DC area. As a result, we waited on the plane, on the tarmac/runway, for nearly THREE HOURS before another passenger on the flight demanded his “passenger’s bill of rights” and said they had to take him back to the airport (note: Congress passed a law that if a plane holds passengers more than three hours before taking off, the passengers have the right to demand return to the airport for de-planing).

The problem with this was that we were second in line to leave next for Atlanta. But because of the regulations, we had to return this passenger to the airport terminal. As a result, we lost our place in line and everyone had to de-plane at the airport terminal, then re-board. We then had to get back in line on the airport tarmac to wait for a long line of planes taking off once again.

Unfortunately, this took almost another three hours and about 15 minutes before the three-hour mark would have forced us to de-plane again, the plane was able to take off for Atlanta. As a result, nearly eight hours after we were scheduled to leave DC we finally arrived in Atlanta.

But we missed our connecting flight to Johannesburg, which had left on time. This forced us to stay overnight in Atlanta and leave on the next available flight, which would be the next day. We stayed at an Atlanta Days Inn, woke the next morning, and headed for the airport to fly stand-by on any available flights to Johannesburg.

The entire group of us, 30 in all (24 teachers and 6 group coordinators), would likely not get on the same flight. Three people were sent to Chicago and then on to Amsterdam, where they would then board a flight to Johannesburg. One person flew direct to Amsterdam and met up with the other three there. Another 20 people were booked on the regularly scheduled flight to Johannesburg from Atlanta.

And where in the world was Mr. Rodman? He was a member of the “Dakar 6.” He and five other teachers were sent, funny enough, from Atlanta back to Washington Dulles, then on South African Airways to Johannesburg (on stand-by) via Dakar, Senegal. Thus we were dubbed the Dakar 6 (see picture). At about 1 am, the plane landed in Dakar, Senegal, and we unloaded passengers and boarded new ones headed with us for Jo’burg.

Finally, at about 7:30 am local time, we finally arrived at the O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. Finally! Hooray! We were elated to have finally made it!

Soon we were reunited with 20 other participants from the Delta flight that left from Atlanta, and we went to the baggage claim terminal to find out … that almost everyone had lost their luggage!

We would soon find out that we would not have our luggage for another 4 days! Not pretty … But all in a day’s work for this group of flexible, go with the flow travelers. We were happy to be in Johannesburg and were looking forward to our adventures there.