On Thursday 21st January this year, we flew from Gatwick to Addis Ababa via Istanbul for the start of our four-week trip around northern Ethiopia. As we checked in at Gatwick early that morning, we never gave a second thought to our bags. We just assumed we would see them again in Addis when we arrived there in the early hours of the next morning. After all, we had flown many times before and nothing had ever gone wrong. We know now just how lucky we’d been up to this point!
Our first flight to Istanbul was on time and without incident. We had a good lunch on board and landed earlier than expected. As we descended over the minarets and rooftops, it brought back many happy memories of our time living in the city.
We had a two and a half hour wait in Istanbul for our flight to Addis. We couldn’t access the internet, so I spent the time writing a blogpost about the first time we’d ever used the camper!
Our second flight turned out to be even more comfortable than the first. The plane was half empty, so we were able to spread out. We had another good meal and landed ten minutes early at 12.45am. It was then that things started to go wrong! We were almost last off the plane, so were last in the queue for our visa on arrival. It took about an hour before we were finally able to pay our $50 and get our passports stamped. We were tired and a little fed up by this time, but we later heard of people who had had to wait three hours or more!
By the time we passed through to baggage reclaim there were very few people left in the airport. There were one or two passengers loading their cases on to trolleys and a couple of airport staff half-heartedly pushing brooms around the floor. There was no sign to tell us which carousel our bags should be on, so we checked both of them. We walked the length of them and back again, round in circles we went, checking the half dozen or so items of luggage which were still on the belts. We looked through the flaps to the outside loading area searching in vain for any more bags being added to the belts, but there weren’t any. Slowly the penny dropped that our bags just weren’t there!
We wondered if someone else had picked them up. After all, we’d been airside for so long and there didn’t seem to be much security landside. We looked frantically for someone to help us. A guy in a fluorescent jacket pointed to a massive stack of assorted luggage dumped to the side of the far conveyor belt and signalled that we should look there. We did. Nothing! We then saw a sign in English indicating there was a lost luggage office. Inside, we found one member of staff and a queue of upset passengers who were all in the same boat as us! Apparently, it was quite normal for bags to go missing on their way to Addis! We waited for an hour before it was our turn to fill in the necessary paperwork with our details, our flight details and a description of our luggage. We were given a ‘unique incident number’ and told to phone in the morning to see if our bags had been located.
By the time we exited the airport, the place was almost deserted and our pre-arranged pick up to take us to our hotel had long gone. Luckily, a man helped us (for a tip!) by phoning our hotel and arranging for a car to come back and get us. We finally arrived, exhausted, at our hotel at about 4am. Fortunately, there was soap in our room, so we were able to have a quick wash and go to bed.
The next morning, after having had very little sleep, I was up and at reception asking them to call the airport to ask about our missing bags. We were told that they hadn’t been able to get any sort of confirmation, but that they were hopeful that our luggage would be on that night’s flight. There was no point in going to the airport in the middle of the night, though. Instead, we should phone the next morning to check they had arrived.
So, I went to a mini-mart near our hotel and bought a few essentials – water, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, a razor for Mark, and liquid soap to serve as shampoo, shower gel, clothes wash, shaving foam, etc. We were then able to make ourselves feel human again! We spent the day in the vicinity of the hotel, trying to make the most of the time, but unable to relax as we were both on tenterhooks about our missing bags. We could have managed for a few days in Addis, but I didn’t think I could embark on our four-week road trip around Ethiopia without my stuff!
After a second sleepless night, we were up early. I had washed my hair in lemon and lime hand wash and it was feeling squeaky clean! We didn’t feel like eating, but we had some great Ethiopian coffee and, when the time had ticked past 8am, we went to reception to ask them to phone the airport for us. There was no reply and we were getting very frustrated. Eventually, after 40 minutes of trying, they answered and told us that our bags had arrived! We were so relieved!!
We immediately organised a taxi to take us to the airport. The £24 return price tag seemed expensive, but we didn’t quibble. Once at the airport, our driver asked how long we would be. I told him ten minutes. After all, we knew they had our bags. How long could it possibly take to just pop in and pick them up? How wrong was I?
In the airport, there was no system. After waiting at the ‘reclaim delayed luggage’ desk for ages to hand in our docket, we were told we first had to locate our missing bags. We were directed to the huge pile of cases, bags, parcels, and pushchairs we had gone through when we first arrived. The mound was now bigger than ever.
We began to search. I was becoming more and more despondent as time went on. Eventually, we found one of our bags, but the other was still proving elusive. Mark wandered into a room off the main concourse (there was nobody checking where we were going or what we were doing!) and, miraculously, he found it!!
Back at the desk, the officer didn’t want to release the bags to us because she said the labels on one of them didn’t match! We had had enough! We loaded the bags on a trolley and left the airport.
I have never been so pleased to see a couple of bags in my life! We were only without them for 36 hours, but it felt like longer. The lesson we take away from this is that, from now on, we will always pack a change of clothes and some essentials in our hand luggage!