Like many things in Angola, planning for this domestic “adventure” occurred at the last possible second! See my previous report to find out what the heck I was doing in Angola:
Taag Angola 777-300ER Lisbon-Luanda In Y (by MHTripple7 Nov 7 2012 in Trip Reports)
Anyways, I was informed by my host, Nuno, upon my arrival into Luanda that TAAG Virtual was attending this business exposition in Lubango called Expo Huila. They were to bring their $12,000 flight simulator (3 large LCD screens, 2 yokes, rudder pedals, a throttle quadrant, and two seats) to Expo Huila, where they would set it up at TAAG Angola’s stand for attenders to stop by and give the simulator a try. Since this was good marketing for real-world TAAG, they were allegedly allowing six TAAG virtual pilots to fly to Lubango and back for free, all expenses paid for. I was the 7th, so if I wanted to go I would need to pay for my ticket.
Since my host, Nuno, is the CEO of TAAG Virtual, he was obviously one of the 6 flying to Lubango for free. I thought Lubango sounded really interesting, and the idea of me staying in Luanda by myself without Nuno was not very appealing, so I decided that I would pay for a ticket to Lubango.
This was decided on Monday, and the 6 TAAG Virtual pilots were scheduled to fly on Tuesday morning’s 6:00 AM flight to Lubango. Here’s where the fun started!
It is still commonplace in Angola to buy tickets at airline offices, so we went to the TAAG ticket office at the international terminal at LAD. We stood there for a few minutes and apparently they weren’t issuing domestic flight tickets. Next, we drove over to the domestic terminal ticket office. We stood outside the office for about 30 minutes and the line didn’t move an inch, and it didn’t look like they were doing anything inside. It was decided that it would be best to buy my ticket over the internet.
We got back to Nuno’s house where we logged onto www.taag.com and tried to buy my ticket for tomorrow’s flight. No such luck, the flight was full. In fact all flights to Lubango tomorrow were full. Well that wasn’t good; I needed to be on that flight. Check-in for tomorrow’s flight was to take place at 7 PM that evening (that’s what they do in LAD for early morning flights). I started to worry but Nuno told me that I should just buy a ticket for a flight to Lubango 2 days later, and that I would get onto tomorrow morning’s flight at the airport that evening. Even though the flight was full, he was extremely confident I’d get on it. We e-mailed my ticket number to our friend Nelson (TAAG flight dispatcher), and he forwarded it to someone else at TAAG ticketing.
I went to the airport that evening with Nuno and Nelson. We arrived at the domestic terminal, which was a temporary tent (new terminal under construction). Nelson walked us to a TAAG office behind the check-in desks, which was apparently where they supervised domestic flight check-in and operations. Nelson introduced us to the staff working in said office, who were all pretty friendly. We stood in there for about 15 minutes and I had no idea what was going on. Then we found out that none of the TAAG Virtual pilots were confirmed on the next morning’s flight, and that we were all in fact waitlisted.
The flight was still full and nobody had the slightest bit of concern. Why wasn’t anyone anxious?! “We will get on, don’t worry” is what I kept hearing. We sat in the office for another hour or so without any progress in that regard, and then left the airport.
We woke up at 2:30 AM the next morning and went around picking up the other TAAG Virtual pilots. The flight simulator was driven in a flatbed truck to the airport. Arriving at the tent domestic terminal, we went to that the same back office as the night before and stood around for a bit. We were waiting for the same person who was in the office last night. I decided that at this point to throw my worry and anxiety out the window. I didn’t need to start growing grey hairs at 19. If we got on, then great. If not, then it would work itself out. I ended up just hanging out with another TAAG Virtual pilot for a while, Antonio, who had just gotten back from Portugal and was trying to get to Lubango as well. We had a great conversation about Angola and its future.
About an hour later, like magic, Nuno appeared out of this back office with 7 boarding passes. Haha you’re kidding me! How did that happen?! But naturally there was still a problem. Security didn’t want to let us check our flight simulator as checked luggage. That sounded bad. Once again, nobody appeared worried in the slightest. Someone from TAAG then went over to the security agents and somehow convinced them to let us take our flight simulator. Problem solved!
That wasn’t it though. Our departure time was fast-approaching, and there was a really long line to check our baggage (including the flight simulator). Well unsurprisingly at this point, someone from TAAG again brought us to the front of the line and we began checking everything. The sight of us checking 3 huge LCD screens, 2 yokes, 2 chairs, a throttle panel, and a table was probably one of the most bizarre and hilarious things I’ve ever seen.
Next was a boarding pass check, security, and then “immigration” where they examined my passport and visa. We power walked to our gate where we were the last to board the bus. I couldn’t believe anything that had just happened, but we made it.
Date: 14 August 2011
Airline: TAAG Angola Airlines
Flight: DT 483
Aircraft: Boeing 737-7M2
Aircraft Reg: D2-TBH
Departure City: Luanda, Angola
Departure Airport: Quatro de Fevereiro International Airport (LAD / FNLU)
Arrival City: Lubango, Angola
Arrival Airport: Mukanka Airport (SDD / FNUB)
Stop City: Ondjiva, Angola
Stop Airport: 11 de Novembro Airport (VPE / FNGI)
Scheduled Departure Time: 6:00 AM
Actual Departure Time: 6:28 AM (28 min late, pushback from stand)
Scheduled Arrival Time: 9:05 AM
Actual Arrival Time: 9:18 (13 min late, on stand)
Estimated Load Factor: 100% (Luanda-Ondjiva), 50% (Ondjiva-Lubango)
The bus took us to our Boeing 737-700, registered D2-TBH (delivered in 2006).
I was convinced this flight was still overbooked, and freaked out when someone was sitting in my seat. I asked her if she was in her assigned seat, to which she responded “open seating”. Okay! Southwest Airlines in Angola. I immediately found an open center seat and sat down as quickly as possible.
I sat next to an Indian guy who had lived in Angola for 20 years or something. Interesting!
Doors were closed 25 minutes late, and the safety video was shown on the drop-down LCD screens (in Portuguese only). Pushback commenced 3 minutes later, and taxi to runway 23 was short.
D2-TEF, most likely having just arrived from Brazil or OPO.
We were number one for takeoff, and banked left immediately after departure.
That stupid “Just for Laughs” show was displayed on the drop-down screens, and surprisingly the audio was played over the P/A system.
The captain welcomed us on-board, gave us details about our route, and thanked us for flying TAAG.
Legroom was pretty much standard for a 737.
The cabin service was promptly started upon reaching our cruise altitude, which consisted of a fairly well-stocked snack box.
The bread and juice were both very tasty. I believe LSG SkyChefs has taken over catering in Luanda.
After eating, I just chilled out and listened to my iPod.
Before I knew it, our descent had begun into Ondjiva. The terrain looked much more stereotypically “African” than the rest of the country. It’s amazing that only an hour flight south can lead to such a drastic change.
We parked at the stand, and were asked to de-plane the aircraft as they re-fueled. As we walked off the aircraft, we were handed transit cards.
Ondjiva Airport was actually incredibly nice! It was small for sure, but I was impressed with the design.
After about 15-20 minutes, our flight began boarding again. Considering all of us wanted window seats this time, we made sure to get on the plane first!
I really liked the internal appearance of TAAG’s cabins. The blue-yellow-blue colorscheme, while not traditional, looked great.
The doors were closed fairly promptly, as this flight was only about half full. What happened next should not have even been a surprise to me at that point. Out of seemingly nowhere, a flight attendant came back to where we were sitting, said something to Antonio, and whisked him off to the flight deck where he sat in the jumpseat for takeoff!
Apparently, the captain of our flight was the father of the founder of TAAG Virtual! I couldn’t believe it. Everyone seemed to know each other in Angola!
We backtracked and took off from runway 31, making a right turn shortly after departure.
The flight attendants on this flight were younger, happier, and friendlier than on my LIS-LAD flight. They weren’t afraid to smile, which went a long way.
There was no meal service on this sector, which was understandable considering how short the flight was.
Descent into Lubango came quickly; VPE-SDD is only a 30 minute flight.
Shortly before commencing our final approach, a flight attendant again came back and started talking to Nuno in Portuguese. I knew what was happening this time, so I quickly gave Nuno my video camera and asked him to film our landing to which he happily obliged!
Meanwhile, I continued to snap pictures of the unique landscape.
Touchdown on runway 28 was smooth, and our rollout followed without a hitch.
We all disembarked from the rear door, and as I sat foot on the ground in Lubango, I truthfully couldn’t believe we had made it. The temperature felt great, and morale was high amongst us TAAG Virtual pilots.
However, this was before going through “immigration”. For some reason, Angolan airports have arrival “immigration”, even for domestic flights, to make sure nobody is violating / overstaying their visa. My conversation with the immigration officer went something like this:
Officer: “Are you here on a tourist visa?”
Me: “Nope! I’m visiting my friend who is standing right over there.”
Officer: “Where? I don’t see him.”
Me: “Right there!”
Nuno then came over and started talking to the immigration officer in Portuguese. Voices were raised and an argument seemed to be developing in front of me. I began to get nervous, but tried to look as calm and relaxed as possible. The other TAAG Virtual pilots came over to stand with me as this altercation ensued. After two minutes or so of arguing, Nuno got the better of the immigration officer, and I was let through without much idea of what just happened.
Apparently, the officer did not like that I was traveling with TAAG Virtual (a group of virtual pilots, mind you), and that my visa did not mention TAAG Virtual in it. You’re kidding me!
This little “issue” signifies a critical dynamic about Angola. The Angolan government’s attitude towards foreigners traveling in their country seems to be one of suspicion. I’m not sure why I feel this way, but the extreme visa requirements, strict document checks, and general demeanor of government officials towards visitors left me feeling rather unwelcome.
However, Angola is a country of contrasts. Just as one government official tries to raise hell with my visa, I’ve got six other Angolans who completely have my back; standing by ready to ensure nothing bad happens to me. That in itself left an immense feeling of comfort resonating within me, and truthfully, it was feelings and moments like those which really defined my trip in a positive way.
This whole experience, without a doubt, was one of the craziest travel fiascos I’ve probably endured. To this day, I don’t quite understand how Nuno got us on that flight. Were there enough no-shows, or did they in fact offload people from the flight to accommodate us? There’s really no way of knowing! Taking a step back, and simply leaving all stress and anxiety behind, was probably the best choice I could have made throughout this experience. I just decided to observe what was happening, and get humor out of things that truthfully would never happen in the United States. TAAG was in fact great throughout this ordeal! They held the plane for us, provided great service, and most importantly showed that they care about people with an interest in aviation. This wasn’t the U.S., where aviation enthusiasm is looked upon as a bizarre and sketchy interest, but a country and airline that embraces those passionate about flying!
For those interested, here is a video of my return flight from Lubango to Luanda: