Lagos Airport (Ikeja), Nigeria – Friday, 22nd December, 1978 (around midnight).
To paraphrase Clement Clarke Moore: Twas the (Friday) night before Christmas……..
In their wisdom, the airline authorities scheduled the following carriers to leave Ikeja, bound for Europe and Middle East, during the 2.5 hour period straddling midnight on Fri/Sat 22/23 December:
1 x British Caledonian DC-10 (circa 300 passengers)
1 x KLM 747 (c.400 passengers)
1 x Lufthansa DC-10 (circa 300)
1 x Sabena 747 (c.400 passengers)
And one other 747, possibly Egyptair, bound for ME with 400 passengers.
Therefore a minimum of 1800 passengers plus 5 crews.
There were also the local flights, bound for Kaduna, Kano, Maiduguri and so on.
Nigeria is big, very big.
There was only one security booth, passengers were questioned behind a dirty voile screen.
One chap was actually carrying a spear as tall as he, intending to take it on board as hand luggage.
(An airline chum recently reminded me, things have changed a bit since Lockerbie, 10 years later.)
Our scheduled take-off time on the BCal flight to London Gatwick was 00.05.
Our actual t/o time was circa 02.00 – which I later learned wasn’t to be derided.
Once we were aboard, the BCal station manager came to apologise personally to passengers for the delay – he got a round of applause from the grateful, relieved and happy assembly.
As he passed down the aisles chatting to various individuals, I asked what he was going to do after our departure.
He replied that, as soon as got home, his steward would pour him a LARGE one and he would spend a few moments relaxing prior to bed ………. before starting again later that morning with the inbound flight from the UK!
At last, the fasten seat belts sign came on, doors were ‘put to automatic’ and we started to move off the stand.
But …….. just before that, over the PA came the well-modulated vowels of the man in the front left-hand seat:
Good Even … ahem, Good Morning, Ladies & Gentlemen.
This is Captain Chapman speaking. I welcome you to this British Caledonian flight 123 to London Gatwick.
I do apologise for the delay and incovenience you have all experienced tonight.
Frankly, I have never seen such a bl**dy shambles in all my life!
After another huge round of applause, laughter and cheers, three General Electrics spooled up and we rumbled out to take off.
Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Homeward Bound’ came to mind as the first G & T was consumed with relish …….. along with some rather tasty dry-roasted!
Moral of the story: Don’t fly on the Friday before Christmas; if you do, have an amusing paperback to keep spirits up plus a Samsonite briefcase to sit down on. Bottled water also useful.
Think ahead – Nothing is guaranteed.
(For the historians, Ikeja was the old airport, situated about 1 km from the modern Murtala Mohammed.)
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