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wheels up

The end of the year has a tendency to sneak up without much warning in Rwanda. Unlike its neighbors – and, for that matter, most other countries we’ve called home – which take a break from official business around mid-December, Rwanda keeps chugging along without too much holiday fanfare. Last week, for example, the ruling party held its thirtieth anniversary party congress, and this week the entire country is focused on its annual National Dialogue.

The Embassy feels a bit empty, as many of our colleagues have departed on their holiday leave, but the work still continues apace. Last week, for example, D handled logistics for a VIP visit that seemed tailor-made to prove Murphy’s Law. The visit itself went off fine, with all of the planned meetings taking place – just not at all in the order they had been scheduled. Had the visitors anticipated even half of the trials and tribulations they would endure en route to and from Rwanda, they might have reconsidered coming to Kigali altogether.

Their initial flight from London via Amsterdam was snowed out, forcing them to take a train to Brussels. After more weather-related delays, their plane received clearance for takeoff only to be pulled back to the gate because one of the passengers had apparently boarded with a fraudulent passport. He had to be offloaded, and his luggage too, which further delayed departure. Once in the air, the crew decided to route the plane to Entebbe, Uganda, skipping their scheduled stop in Kigali (Brussels Airlines, like KLM, runs a triangle route: Brussels – Kigali – Entebbe – Brussels).

Whether the flight crew communicated the decision to anyone seems debatable, as all of the available information pointed to the plane arriving in Kigali a few hours behind schedule. Brussels Airlines’ flight tracker had the plane landing in Rwanda, as did the website for Kigali airport. Entebbe airport’s online systems showed a delayed arrival from Rwanda. The Brussels Airlines staff in Kigali suggested the plane might land in Uganda first for refueling but insisted that it would continue on to Kigali. With no indication that the visitors might not show up at all, D arrived at the airport just after midnight. His vehicle was in line to be screened when he received an email from the hapless travelers. A small riot apparently had ensued when the pilot announced upon landing in Uganda that the travelers who had hoped to disembark in Rwanda would have to wait for another plane the following morning.

The return journey was likewise far from problem free. This time the plane arrived from Brussels as scheduled, but one of the passengers ticketed to Entebbe not only disembarked in Kigali, but also left his luggage aboard the aircraft. For obvious security reasons, airport staff would not board anyone else until the missing passenger could be found. With all that had already gone wrong, D received explicit instructions not to leave the terminal until the plane with the visitors was wheels up and headed out of Rwanda airspace. That the plane took off “only” an hour and a half behind schedule seemed like a minor miracle.

Note: The photo above is of the plane used by Secretary Kerry during his visit to Chisinau. Our visitor last week was a few ranks lower, and he, alas, had to fly commercial.

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