Monday, April 13, 2015

Flying with Friends

Libyan Arab Airlines (LAA) was not the best airline in the world but it was a reasonably safe and effective one. However, actually getting onto its planes was always a hassle. No matter how far in advance you had booked, you would usually arrive at the check-in desk only to be told that the flight was already full. The root of the problem was not inefficiency but rather the importance that Libyans placed on friends and family. Foreigners would book their seats weeks in advance but then the LAA reservation clerks would be approached by colleagues or other airport workers needing to book a seat for their brother or their cousin or a friend of their cousin or someone who said he was a friend of a friend of another of their cousins. Since it would have been unthinkable to refuse such a request from a fellow Libyan, the clerks would simply add the names concerned to the top of the passenger list. So each flight would be grossly overbooked.

I encountered this problem several times when I had arranged to fly out of Libya on LAA. Luckily, I was in a better position than most other non-Libyans who had booked seats: Our school provided English courses to many LAA employees and the airline’s general manager (Georges H----) was himself one of our students. Although I never asked any favors of Georges, I wasn’t above using his name if necessary. This always made for an interesting and enjoyable interaction at the check-in desk.

Me: Hello. Here’s my ticket. I’m on the 1:00 pm flight to London.

Clerk: I’m sorry but the flight is full. You must wait for another flight.

Me: Can you check the list, please? I’m sure I’m on it.

The clerk would pretend to check.

Clerk: I’m sorry. You are not on the list.

Me: Can you check it again, please?

The clerk would pretend to check once more.

Clerk: No. You are not on the list.

Me: That’s very strange. I made the booking through Georges H-----, your manager. He’s a friend of mine and a student at my school.

Clerk: Oh. You know Mr. George. Let me check again. Yes, there you are. I didn’t notice before because your name is at the top of the list. 

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