Bums and backpacks: A non-seamless Santorini departure

JOHANNESBURG — Being at the bottom of Africa, us Saffers have to endure lengthy flights to get to any major hub in the world. Having previously lived in Dubai and having made my annual flight back home to SA, I learnt this all too well. If there’s any piece of advice I can give anybody about flying, it’s that you need to try to go for the most direct route possible. I remember once flying from Dubai to Jo’burg via Nairobi. It was a cheap travel arrangement, but I landed on the either side after a 24-hour delay while my bags went missing somewhere in Kenya. Dominique Herman’s piece below, about her trip to Greece, reminds me of my own flights of pain. – Gareth van Zyl

By Dominique Herman

They say the best way to get over somebody is to get under somebody else.

And who better as a pool of candidates than the descendants of Greek gods? But that’s not the only reason to go to Greece in summer. Just make sure not to fly there via London from Cape Town. That’s a surefire recipe to exit carefree island life and enter the rough and tumble of South African life with a cold, hard jolt.

It’s totally circuitous a route to get from here to there but my friend and I decided on it for a variety of uninteresting reasons. The outbound route was lengthy but the just-fished-out-of-the-Aegean sea bream we suppered on upon arrival in the Santorini village of Kamari made any travel unpleasantness a faint memory. Returning to SA, however, was another story.

Santorini is chockablock in the six-month summer season and completely empty in winter. So the airport – a couple of low-slung buildings where the queues for check-in begin round the block outside – is not geared for the mass number of tourists jostling their way through every day.

So warned, we turned up with bags of time. Flip flop-wearing travellers milled about in all directions. Every inch of floor space was taken up by bums and backpacks. After a mega-long queue to check in and then another for passport control, we found ourselves shepherded outside to wait for the bus to take us to our easyJet flight. Forty-five minutes later, no bus.

When we finally got on the plane more than an hour after it was supposed to depart, the captain said she was not authorised to leave London to fly to Santorini to pick us up as there was no space for the plane to park there.

Off we went to Gatwick to be welcomed by the usual immigration interrogation and then back outside waiting for another bus, this one to Heathrow. More than R1000 for a UK transit visa to spend the grand total of about five hours commuting between airports. At the appointed departure time, that plane was also delayed by an hour. Something about it having to be moved from one apron area to another.

In Johannesburg the next morning, we narrowly missed the BA 10.40am to Cape Town and then the SAA 11am. So we settled on the SAA noon flight. Once on that plane, the pilot assured us we would be wheels-up shortly, once refueling was complete. A half hour later the refueling was still happening. Then he mentioned that there was a technical glitch with the refueling equipment and paperwork was having to be issued. Stuff the paperwork, I verbalised, what about the technical problem? The friend I was travelling with responded curtly that I could get off the plane but he was going to Cape Town without me. Two weeks together, we had clearly bonded enough.

One of the crew members then piped up to say that they were just as much in the dark as we were about our departure time, so they would serve drinks now. When we should have been landing in Cape Town, we took off for Cape Town.

And in the final leg of a series consisting of a taxi, tram, buses, planes and now an Uber, we drove up to our front doors 30 hours after we left for the first airport. The backdrop of dazzling cerulean was replaced with foggy grey and there was a complete absence of olive-skinned hotties.

Later that night my friend texted me a screen grab of the quickest route to Santorini from Cape Town. There’s no WH Smith at that connecting airport and the probability of finding giant Toblerones slim, but it makes the journey six to seven hours shorter and that’s a lot of grilled calamari and sea bream munching time to consider.

  • Dominique Herman is a writer and editor in Cape Town. She previously worked as a senior staff reporter for the Cape Times where she covered trade and industry, and property stories.