My wife Shelley and I were celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary and we had planned a trip down to a small fishing village called Paternoster in the Western Cape of South Africa. There is a world-renowned restaurant there that we had booked (and paid for!) 90 days prior. Our April trip was initially delayed due to Covid lockdowns, but by November, we were finally able to travel again. Unfortunately, we proved to be a little out of practice when it came to traveling...
Planning a trip like this does require quite a bit of strategy. Find a set of willing grandparents brave enough to care for the boys for three days. Pack for them, pack for ourselves. Organise parking for the car at the airport. Airbnb, car rental, and someone to feed our cats. But we checked all of those items off the list.
Finally, the day of the trip arrived. Everything was going really smoothly and we dropped the boys off at Shelley's parents. My father-in-law asked us which airport we were flying from. We told him confidently that it was OR Tambo, the main airport in Johannesburg. We said a final farewell to the boys and then headed off to the airport.
At the airport, we met up with the driver from the valet service we had pre-booked. We handed over the keys and casually wandered across to the first Covid-19 health checkpoint in the parking basement of OR Tambo International Airport. We got our temperatures checked and then showed them our boarding passes.
The security guard looked at the boarding pass, then looked at us. Again at the boarding pass — this time with a puzzled expression. That was when my wife realised: “We're at the wrong airport.”
Boom… my heart dropped like that water balloon my kids threw from our balcony. I had booked the tickets so long ago and there had been so many Covid-related postponements since then, I had forgotten where we were flying from.
I stood there in shock, my heart at over 150bpm. Our flight would be taking off in an hour — from Lanseria, an airport located conveniently close to our home, which would be great if we were at home. But Lanseria is 50 minutes from OR Tambo... on a good day; with no traffic; on an open road; and if you have the use of an F1 car.
"Well, we tried. I guess we'll just head home. We have no chance."
My wife did not agree. She comes from a family that regularly makes mistakes around flight times, takes other people's passports, or forgets to put their luggage in the car. So, she was not going to shy away from this little challenge.
I phoned the valet service and asked them to bring the car back.
"Sure," they said. "Just one problem... the driver doesn’t have his phone with him, so we'll only be able to turn him back around when he gets to the parking garage." WHICH WAS 10 MINUTES AWAY!
So, for 15 agonising minutes, we waited to get our car back. I heard a clock ticking down the whole time.
Google Maps said it would take us 49 minutes to get to the airport. With the 15-minute wait for the car, we only had 45 minutes to spare before takeoff (takeoff, not boarding, I'll add...). So we were four minutes behind schedule. Not looking good. But Shelley still fancied our chances.
The car arrived and we dived into it before the poor driver had much of a chance to get out. I took comfort in the fact that he seemed so calm — we were obviously not the first fools who had done something like this.
But I quickly put that thought out of my mind as I started going into process mode!
Step 1: Wrangle our way out of the underground parking area, where the exit signs seemed intent on keeping us circling around for hours rather than actually exiting the place.
Step 2: Get to the (right) airport. Once on the highway, we managed to make up time. I won’t lie. There were a few moments where I might have gone a teensy weensy bit faster than the speed limit. We also had moments stuck behind a truck where we were doing 40km/h. When you are late and chasing the clock, 40km/h is excruciatingly slow. However, we reached the other airport with approximately 3,57 minutes to spare. "We are still in this," I thought.
Step 3: Get to the airport. With fewer people traveling during the pandemic, we fortuately found a parking spot close to the terminal. I popped the boot, grabbed both our bags, and started flat-out sprinting. Shelley ran alongside me, trying to keep up in the heels she'd worn (she was planning for a classy, child-free trip, after all!). Of course, I must add, with it being November 2020, we were running this race with masks on.
Step 4: Get to the boarding gate. We dashed through the airport, which had been newly renovated and increased in size. Those extra 40 metres of new distance felt like an extra few kilometres. We had 3 minutes to go before the gates closed.
We reached the security check. The bags went through fine. I stepped through the metal detector — no problem. But as Shelley went through, the metal detector beeped. She took off all the jewelery she was wearing and had multiple attempts through the detector. I must be honest that I thought we had made it this far, only to be thwarted by a chunky necklace. But finally, the beeping stopped and we continued the quest.
Step 5: The final sprint. Chariots of Fire blasting in my mind, and all sense of dignity long gone, we made it to the gate, just seconds before takeoff. The flight attendants high-fived us and let us through. We sprinted across the tarmac, ran up the stairs, and took our seats on the plane. We made it.
It probably took us the entire 2-hour flight to process what had just happened. We kept asking ourselves why neither of us had checked our boarding passes the day before! And why we didn't even think to check when Shelley's dad asked us about the airport! Plenty of facepalm moments, but it didn't matter because we had made it. And we could chalk it up to yet another one of our adventures in marriage!
Oh and the restaurant was amazing. ;)