Saturday, November 20, 2010

Over Africa

Croissants and a hard boiled egg at Brussels Airport.

Looking at the flight schedule and calculating the itinerary, I came up with a number:

Ten hours.

Dix heures.

Diez horas.

Ten hours.

That's a long time to travel. Ten hours. I had forgotten just how far Africa is from my home.

First stop: Kigali, Rwanda 6367 km.

After half a million miles (seat time) of travel, I think I still enjoy it. Well, not really. Now that United (and most airlines) have gotten so cheap with everything, what was once an experience is now just painful. Ten hours. Not fun.

As I was checking in for the flight in Brussels, behind a group of French who had their luggage piled high that I couldn't tell if they were just tourists, going on safari or missionaries, I asked the agent just how "heavy" the flight would be today. She said it's about 49% full - gotta love these Europeans and their efficiencies. Back in the United States, the agent would have said something like "pretty full" or "about half". Here, in Europe, they've got it down to the exact percentage.

I figured I could hijack some seats.

Our A330 cabin.

When a flight is flying "light" you have the opportunity to jump your assigned seat and grab an open one. As long as you're not jumping up a class, they usually leave you alone. They do tell you to take your seat and then once airborne, you can change.

Since economy has so many people, it's unlikely that a flight crew will take the time to check if you're actually assigned that seat. First and business? Oh, they'll know if you're an interloper, but economy? They really don't care.

Instead of waiting until we're airborne, or at least the doors have been closed, I opt for a different strategy. I've got a single carry-on that's relatively small, so I try to be one of the last people to board the aircraft. If I'm the last person and they close the door behind me as I board, all the better. It now means that I have my pick of the seats!

Lunch - that I divided over the duration of our flight.

As I walk down the aisle to my assigned seat: 39H, an aisle seat on the right side of the aircraft with an adjoining window seat, I know that it's full and that I need to jump my seat. I scan the selection of seats and find a completely center open row of four seats: 27D-G and hop in. Serendipitously, it happens to be next to the cute Spanish girl I saw in line at border control.

Now, this is where it gets tricky. How do you hold four seats and discourage someone from sitting in 27D when you're in 27G? Slide over to 27F and place your jacket and carryon in 27E. In a plane with so many open options, you make 27D just a little more unattractive. Happily, it worked.

First Course: Lemon Chicken with potatoes and lentils.

The first hop on our flight was to Kigali - roughly eight hours away. It's God-awful and had I been forced to fly the entire way upright in a cramped seat it would have been absolutely brutal. But with four open seats, I could try to lie down and sleep.

I stretched out across the seats and donned my earbuds (for silence) and blindfold almost immediately after takeoff. I wanted to claim my seats, make no mistake about it. The goal was to sleep (or try to sleep) for two hours. After changing positions four times and not sure if I actually slept, I checked the time. Two hours had passed. Thank you, Baby Jesus.

Another round of trying to sleep ended up killing two more hours for a total of four. That's half the flight gone and I'm not going crazy. Yet.

Second Course: Chicken Pasta Salad...

Toss in a couple of meals, the ending of Despicable Me and the entirety of Marmaduke and we're nearly six hours through the flight. Pop open the laptop to watch this weeks episodes of Community and The Big Bang Theory and another 44 minutes has gone by. Fire up the movie Skyline and I'm only 3/4 though when we start our descent into Kigali.

Roughly an hour on the ground in Kigali to clean up the plane and take on a boatload of passengers, so much so that I'm forced back to my assigned seat, and we're off again.

From Kigali, Entebbe is only a 40 minute flight over Lake Victoria. The flight is quick and easy - and I don't have enough time to finish the last six minutes of Skyline before we're landing, going through customs and taking the one hour ride to Kampala.

And Skyline? It's pretty dumb.

and Chocolate Ice Cream!

Sunset over the Sahara.

Course Three: Corned Beef Salad with bread.

Kigali means only another 338km to go!

I'm back to my assigned seat: 39H.

Somewhere cruising over Lake Victoria.

Arrival: Entebbe International Airport.

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