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20:30, Johannesburg Airport
We are relaxing in the Shangololo lounge at Johannesburg International Airport in South Africa, awaiting our connecting flight to Nairobi in Kenya. Our Qantas flight arrived here at 18:20, over an hour late after leaving Sydney nearly two hours behind the scheduled departure time of 10:55 this morning.
Our day began with an alarm at 06:00, after not quite enough sleep. M. had School of Rock rehearsal last night, so we were late getting to bed, after prepping for the trip as best we could in the time we had. We had to get up at 06:00 and actually pack our bags, since we didn't have time to do it before then. We had a rushed breakfast as well and showered, then scrambled to be ready to leave just after 07:00.
We walked to the station and caught a train to Central, where platform 23 was packed with other people either commuting to work or heading to the airport as well. The airport line trains were running late, and we had a ten minute wait as more and more people piled onto the platform. Fortunately when the train finally arrived, it was nearly empty, and everyone managed to squeeze on.
At the airport we joined a queue at the business class check in. The place was busier than I'd seen it in a long time, and we had a bit of a wait, thankful that we didn't have to wait in the economy queue. When we got to the check in counter, the lady there gave us boarding passes only for our first flight, Sydney to Johannesburg, and said we'd need to check in and get boarding passes for our connecting flights there. I asked to confirm that I had my pre-booked and paid exit row seat, and M. was assigned to the seat directly behind me (because that's all that was available when I booked seats). She said that my seat had been changed because the plane had been changed, and now I was no longer in an exit row. I said I'd already paid for an exit row seat, and she worked for a minute to figure it out. She said we could both have adjacent exit row seats if we paid for M.'s upgrade, and I agreed. So she took us over to the Qantas sales counter to finalise and pay for that. The guy there took my credit card and gave us boarding passes... for seats not in exit rows! I queried and he apologised and issued us with new boarding passes with the proper seats on them.
Finally we went through immigration and then security, which took some time due to all the travellers departing at this time. Our flight was due to start boarding around 10:00 for a 10:55 departure. It was close to 09:00, so we stopped at the nice food place we used last time for some more substantial breakfast. I got a granola bowl with stewed pear and yoghurt, while M. got an apricot pastry and a muesli bar slice. After eating, we headed to our departure gate, where people were queuing to get past a boarding pass check to get into the gate lounge area. We joined the queue, but were told that this was for the preceding flight, to Los Angeles, and we had to wait further for our flight to Johannesburg.
We hung around nearby, until they announced that our flight would be delayed and departing from a different gate. Eventually they assigned us the adjacent gate, where an Air China flight was still waiting to depart. After some more time, it was after our scheduled departure time, and they announced that boarding would commence in another 45 minutes! We waited right near the economy boarding sign at the gate. Eventually our patience paid off as they started boarding families with children, then business class, and then they opened the economy boarding before business class had finished, and we were first in line, and ended up merging in and onto the plane before half the business class passengers.
The flight itself was unremarkable. We ate the meals on offer as we were hungry. I chose the chicken fricassee with mushroom sauce for lunch and the Greek salad with grilled chicken for dinner just before we landed.
The plane parked away from the terminal and we had to walk down stairs onto the tarmac to catch a bus to the terminal. As the bus we were on filled to capacity and a guy outside declared it full, telling the driver to close the doors and go, a woman still outside yelled that her children were on the bus. But they didn't let her on, and we drove off with her kids, leaving her to get the next bus.
We entered the terminal and followed the signs to international transit, with only a handful of fellow passengers as most made their way to passport control to enter South Africa. There was a small lounge area with a few seats and a bunch of check in desks for different airlines. We approached the one for Kenya Airways, but the woman told us that check in for our flight would only open at 21:00, still over two hours away, or we could try the automated check-in machine. We decided to walk into the terminal and find the Shangololo lounge where we could relax in comfort until it closed at 22:00, and then return to check in.
However, when we tried to walk into the departure terminal area, there was a security barrier with a guy who looked like he was checking boarding passes of other people. I asked him if we needed boarding passes to go through and he said yes. So we had no choice but to go back to the uncomfortable transit check in area and either wait two and a bit hours there, or try our luck with the machine. So we tried the machine. It couldn't find our bookings when I inserted a passport, but fortunately it worked when I entered our reservation number, printing out boarding passes for both our flight to Nairobi and the next leg to Kilimanjaro International Airport in Tanzania. So equipped, we made our way back to the security point, where the man said, "Ah, you're back!" But then he scanned our boarding passes and told us we couldn't go through as our flight was tomorrow, not today. We said yes, it leaves just after midnight, in only a few hours. We back and forthed a little on this point until he finally decided to ignore his literal protocol and let us through.
Once past, we passed through a bag screening check and we were finally free in the departure terminal. We walked past shops, noting a sign saying that the Shangololo lounge was at the far end of the terminal. We passed a bunch of exclusive airline terminals, and then saw the Aspire lounge, which had a sign saying walk-ins were welcome. It looked nice, so I inquired what time it closed. The lady said 21:30, but I knew that Shangololo closed at 22:00, so we chose to continue on, and make use of the extra half hour in a lounge.
Shangololo lounge, Johannesburg Aiport
At Shangololo we paid US$40 each for entry. It was close to 19:00, so we had about three hours worth of comfort and complimentary food and drink. The lounge was a little busy, but we found a comfortable sofa to sit on near the buffet area. I grabbed some Thai chicken curry and beef stew with rice, and M. got some ginger biscuits and a cappuccino. I also grabbed a gin and soda, and then some Greek salad, followed by some biscuits and an apple.
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