Africa 2009: Flying the Friendly Skies

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After months of planning and waiting, the morning of January 22nd was finally here. The flight wasn’t until 12:45 so there was plenty of time to check for last minute items to pack and have a bite to eat.

The flight to Minneapolis was pretty much how it always is. A 40 minute flight with some stale pretzels and a can of diet pepsi. It’s standard fare on all domestic flights.

Once in Minneapolis, there wasn’t a lot of time to relax before the next flight. I had a carnet I needed signed off on for the video gear I was taking. A carnet is sort of like a passport but in this case for video gear. It shows that the equipment I was taking to Africa originated from the US so when I returned there would be no question about having to pay import taxes etc.

There was only 50 minutes before the next flight and I had to find the customs office to get the carnet signed before we left for Amsterdam. For whatever reason they won’t tell you where the customs office is in the Minneapolis airport online. You have to ask once you get there. Lucky for us, the flight attendant knew where it was and gave us directions to its location before we even touched down.

Once we touched down, it was a mad dash to the customs office only to find out that they had to find an agent who could fill out the paperwork. They said if no one shows up in ten minutes to ring the bell again and they would go out again and try to find someone who could sign off on the paperwork. Shouldn’t any customs agent know how to fill out the paperwork?

Finally a customs agent showed up and quickly filled out the proper paperwork. I explained that I had never used a carnet before and he went through the whole procedure for me on what they would do once we landed in Africa and what they would do once we got back. So nice to run into people that take the time to explain things like that. You know they must hear the same questions day after day but this guy was great.

The gate for the flight to Amsterdam was just a few gates from the customs office so we made it with ease. The flight to Minneapolis was on NorthWest but now we would be flying their on one of their partner airlines KLM. The flight to Amsterdam would be a long one about nine hours and fifteen minutes. We flew out on a Airbus 330 which was awesome. A lot more leg room for my 6’6″ frame and video on demand screens with every seat.

So, we settled in for the long flight but the cabin crew had other plans.

It’s been many years since I last flew an international flight. I was blown away by the level of service which is commonplace for European flights.

We hadn’t even reached cruising altitude when the cabin crew came through with snacks, soda, water, juices, beer and wine. Yep, beer and wine. Best thing was it was all free! 🙂

On domestic flights you can get that stuff but they charge you. It was kind of funny that domestic flight beverage carts are loaded with soda, water and juice with a few cans of beer and bottles of wine. It was just the opposite on this Amsterdam flight. A few cans of soda, bottles of water and containers of juice. The bulk of the cart was weighted down with wine and beer. And it was flowing freely. I felt like I was at some kind of frat party with the amount of beer and wine being passed around.

But, the real shocker was the food served on the flight. That’s right, FOOD! No, stale pretzels or peanuts but a full meal with real silverware! Certainly this must be how royalty flies! And it was decent food too. I had the chicken teriyaki with a warm roll, salad, desert etc. It really hit the spot. The crew also came through with hot towels to refresh yourself from time to time. Then more snacks, ice cream, chips and more wine and beer. Then more food and then more soda, wine and beer.

Finally we touched down in Amsterdam a little tired but certainly not hungry. 🙂

We had a couple hours for our layover so we relaxed and people watched.

The security procedures in Amsterdam is unlike any I’ve experienced. In most airports you enter the secured area after having your carry-ons x-rayed and passing through the metal detector. You can then go anywhere in the secured area and board a plane at any gate without having to do anything else.

Since we came into Amsterdam I don’t know if there is any security procedures to get to the gate area or not. I would think there would be. But what surprised me was that you had to do it all over again at the gate to get on your plane.

They rope off the area in front of the gate and about two hours before your flight they start checking passports and putting your carry-on through x-ray and walking you through metal detectors all over again. Then you sit in the little room with about three hundred other people and wait another hour before you can board your plane. Lucky for me they x-rayed the bag with all the camera gear and were satisfied so I didn’t have to pull everything out for them to search the bag. So finally two hours after we went through the second security screening, we were headed to Africa!

The KLM flight to Africa was more of the same. Lots of food, wine and beer. Just stellar service. I’m not sure how the cabin crew could make it all look so easy. Once again, two good full meals, plenty of snacks and great ice cream to boot! 🙂

This was the longest flight of the trip so far. Over ten hours. It was on an older 747-400 so the seats were closer together and not as comfortable as the Airbus 330. But every couple hours I got up and walked around the plane to stretch out and keep the blood flowing.

Finally after more than ten hours in the air, we touched down in Johannesburg, South Africa at 10:50 PM

It was quite a shock after leaving sub-zero temperatures to find yourself in eighty degree weather.

Going through South African customs to get an entry visa was smooth as silk. You get in line, show them your passport and they stamp you and you’re on your way.

Then it was a quick trip to the Road Lodge for a few hours of sleep.

About six hours later, we were up getting ready to head back to the airport to catch a South African Air flight to Nelspruit Kruger Mpumalanga Airport. Once again the flight was less than an hour but we had a great bag lunch with desert to boot.

What was even better was that there was only seven of us on the entire plane. So, I grabbed an exit row and stretched out for the final flight.

Less than an hour later we touched down and the safari was about to begin.

About Kevin J Railsabck

Award-winning filmmaker Kevin J Railsback has traveled as far as Africa to test HD cameras for Panasonic.
His stunning nature and wildlife footage has appeared in productions on National Geographic, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel as well as in commercials for such corporate giants as AT&T.


  1. Omg..this is fantastic reading…what a joy to feel as if I was there and experiencing it as well…the flight to Amsterdam sounds wonderful with such great service and food to boot…and at no extra charge..I can’t wait to read more…Thank you so much for posting this..

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