Every bit as good as India

In 1996 the South African team were introduced to some of the harsher realities of subcontinental travel when they endured 27 flights in a nine week tour including three Tests and ten one-dayers.

On a couple of occasions the team had to take three flights – including an overnight stopover – to get from one city to the next. It was an eye-opener of bulging proportions, particularly when the journey began with a 4.00 am wake-up call.

What a pleasure to get home, we all thought. No way we’d experience problems like that. And we didn’t, either. For the next seven or eight years we moved around the country with no more than minor glitches and irritations, nothing more frustrating than having to wait for the 10.00 am flight because the 8.00 am was full of players and officials. Until this year.

Perhaps it’s the itinerary taking us from small city to small city, or perhaps it’s the number of English supporters in the country. Or perhaps there are less flights than there used to be, on smaller planes.

Not even the South African squad could make the trip en-masse from Bloemfontein to Port Elizabeth, team computer analyst Gustav Obermeyer having to fly via Durban for the third one-dayer. In fact, not even the players’ hand luggage made it on the same flight to PE, so small was the 29-seater that ferried the players while their kit coffins made the trip overland by truck.

The four umpires for the series and the match referee, meanwhile, couldn’t get out of Bloem before 1.50 pm and then only on a flight to Johannesburg where they had to wait over two hours before connecting onwards to the windy city – sorry, the ‘Friendly City’ as Elizabethans now prefer their home to be known. (And it is, too.) “Oh well,” observed a haggered Karl Hurter, “it’s good for the Voyager miles.”

Most of the British media were forced into driving between venues because it simply wasn’t possible to reserve a seat on ANY flight, via anywhere. And it doesn’t end there.

Despite being wait listed for seven weeks for a seat (on any airline, at any time, in any class) a number of the traveling journalistic contingent have been forced to hire cars for the journey from PE to Cape Town for the fourth one-dayer while others, Supercricket included, arranged to drive from PE to East London at the crack of dawn in order to catch a flight from that city to Cape Town.

Whilst prejudice and the unfamiliarity of surroundings in India may have contributed to the shock of travel arrangements in that country almost a decade ago, it was also the reality of the ‘first world’ nature of travel arrangements in this country that caused the shock.

The United Cricket Board is not to blame, and South African Airways are rightly running a tight ship in economically hard times. Good on both them, for they have tried hard. But how much communication has there been between them? Nobody expects SAA to lose money in a charitable gesture for the good of cricket and the country’s image, but when four or five hundred passengers – including English tour groups – are left scrambling desperately to get from point A to point B, and are willing to pay, why not schedule a larger plane – or a couple of extra small ones – to cater for the demand? Just a thought.

Take it in the constructive spirit in which it is intended, ladies and gentlemen. Should anyone from SAA care to comment on the (surely unnecessary) grief and hassle caused to so many willing passengers, I promise to publish their response right here. Understanding, of course, is the best cure for frustration.


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