BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh
BBCi CATEGORIES   TV   RADIO   COMMUNICATE   WHERE I LIVE   INDEX    SEARCH 

BBC NEWS
 You are in: World: Africa
Front Page 
World 
Africa 
Americas 
Asia-Pacific 
Europe 
Middle East 
South Asia 
-------------
From Our Own Correspondent 
-------------
Letter From America 
UK 
UK Politics 
Business 
Sci/Tech 
Health 
Education 
Entertainment 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
AudioVideo 


Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

SERVICES 
Monday, 26 November, 2001, 11:03 GMT
A striking end for Air Afrique
Air Afrique check-in desk
Air Afrique owes $500m and has only three planes operational
By BBC Africa analyst Elizabeth Blunt

Staff of the bankrupt West African airline, Air Afrique, plan to begin industrial action on Monday against Air France.


Even in its glory days, when it ran an impressive network of flights around the region, Air Afrique had the occasional wobble.

The French flag carrier is taking over both the name and routes of Air Afrique, once a proud symbol of African independence.

But ground staff providing services such as cleaning and catering at airports throughout French-speaking West Africa want a better deal when the airline goes into liquidation.

Having been a frequent flier with Air Afrique, I have mixed feelings about the airline as it passes into history.

'Occasional wobbles'

I used to be an Homme d'Affaires, Air Afrique.

They clearly had not thought of having Femmes d'Affaires, but I wasn't going to raise feminist objections - having one of their businessman's cards could be extremely useful.

Even in its glory days, when it ran an impressive network of flights around the region, Air Afrique had the occasional wobble.

There were days when the computer system crashed all along the West African coast, and the check-in staff had absolutely no idea how many seats on the incoming flight were already taken.

There were days when one of the 11 owner governments had pulled rank and commandeered half the plane.

Or if the entire Paris press corps was fighting to get on the last flight to France for three days, the little bit of green and white plastic could work a bit of magic, and make sure I was the last to get bumped.

Once on board, Air Afrique was usually very comfortable - the hostesses were impeccably elegant, from their swept back hair to their manicured fingernails.

Meals came with a choice of a French or African main course, red or white wine, and crisp bread rolls.

Past glories

But the glory days are long past.

Six planes have now been repossessed for non-payment, and hotel reception desks in the region, instead of referring you to the timetable, stick up little hand-written notices to announce that Air Afrique might be planning to run a flight to Paris on Friday.


Once on board, Air Afrique was usually very comfortable - the hostesses were impeccably elegant, from their swept back hair to their manicured fingernails

On my last two return trips with Air Afrique, two of the flights were nearly 20 hours late and my luggage got left behind in Paris three times.

In Senegal for a big UN conference I fell foul of the reconfirmation rule - fail to reconfirm 72 hours before your return flight, and the computer automatically wipes out your booking.

This would happen even if the Air Afrique office had closed by the time you arrived on Friday evening and the deadline expired before it reopened on Monday morning.

It turned out I was lucky, because I at least knew I had a problem - unlike the hundred of other delegates who turned up at the airport blissfully unaware that their flights had been amalgamated with others or abolished altogether.

By that time I had spent the whole afternoon at the airport, most of it sitting politely but unmoveable on the sofa in the station manager's office.

He would juggle phones, swallow aspirins, and deal with abusive officials demanding that passengers should be thrown off flights so their ministers could travel.

When Mr Bah finally found me a boarding pass I paused just long enough to express my undying gratitude, and then fled to get as high up the check-in queue as possible.

Patience in adversity

By the time I reached the desk, the whole check-in area was a heaving mass of people and luggage - no way I could be sent away to pay for my excess baggage, or I would never have got back again.

When I finally got to the departure lounge I looked back; a near-riot had broken out when the last boarding pass was issued.

The head of airport security was standing on the check-in counter, trying to calm the mob, as the disappointed passengers - including senior civil servants and UN officials - bayed for his blood.

Over the years Air Afrique has taught me patience in adversity, low cunning and the tactical use of a sharp elbow.

My sympathies are with Mr Bah and his colleagues as they face an uncertain future.

See also:

15 Oct 01 | Business
Air Afrique loses half its fleet
15 Aug 01 | Business
Air Afrique wound up
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Africa stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Africa stories