I don’t know about you but before 2008, the only interaction I ever had with an airplane was an excursion organized when I was in primary school. Now, don’t get this wrong, it was not like the excursions nowadays when kids are flying to Paris, London or Jo’burg. Rather, it was to see the inside of a dilapidated airplane. At least, I saw the inside of a cockpit and started dreaming of becoming a pilot. A dream that got cut short after the recurring plane crashes in the early 90s. I was young but not too young to realize plane crashes meant death of pilots so my medical dreams started. I will save the story on the death of this for a later date.
In 2008, I joined Procter & Gamble right out of school and will forever be greatful for the opportunities the company gave to me. My first role saw me managing some implementations in South Africa and Morocco. So I had to apply for a visa in Abuja. I prepared for the flight to Abuja like I was going to the U.S. Probably arrived at the airport 4 hours before departure, dressed to the teeth, with all the plastic smiles I could manage because I did not want to be turned back because my face was hard and hence, might be a threat…the thoughts of 9/11 still fresh in my mind. We boarded and I listened to the safety protocol like I was going to write an exam on it. Then the plane started moving to the runway. I swear all the hair on my body was standing as if I was just sworn in as the president of Nigeria after defeating an incumbent. Then the plane started to taxi. Instinctively, as the plane took off, I grabbed the hands of the chair as if I was drifting against gravity. It was so obvious, that the lady next to me (a friend now) asked if it was my first time and me, not known for faking things, said straight up, yes o. She then offered some comforting words only for me to realize later it was her own second flight and was equally as scared. However, at that moment, she was an angel sent from God.
Let me not bore you with how we queued for hours before the interview and eventually the visa. On the d-day of my travel to Jo’borg, I arrived early at the airport with a winter jacket. Don’t ask me what I was doing with it! I was traveling out and people take winter jackets with them when they do so. I eventually misplaced the jacket which I borrowed from my brother-in-law cos I did not use it as much as they said people do since temperature was only 14 degrees. The flight was for 11pm so I was already checked in as at 8pm. Then the shocker came! The flight was delayed. Pardon me if that was really not a shocker but if the first time you are flying out, the flight is delayed, then you would be as concerned as I was. Honestly, I was praying and wondering who were my enemies of progress. But I was ready for them! No matter what, I was going to wait it out. Then at about 12 midnight, we were told the flight taking us to Jo’burg was just departing Heathrow. WHAT!!!! That is a 6 hours flight! Was I expected to go home and come back. No way, not me! Jo’borg things on my mind. So I mustered myself for the long night. Between short stretches on those tiny metallic chairs and patrolling of the airport area like a security guard, I made it through the night and we eventually boarded at 7am.
Wow, I was really flying out! No, not until they shut the door of the plane. I was looking out of the window to ensure there was no last minute request for a certain man by my name to come off the plane. Eventually, the door was shut and the plane took off. I took my time to watch all the movies I could and ate all that was offered. We arrived in Jo’burg and there was a man with my name waiting to pick me up. I felt like the Fresh Prince of Bel Air! As we rode to the hotel, I cannot put into words how I felt. It was a heavenly feeling…So that was my first international flight.