First I go to the Air Zimbabwe website and click ‘Online Reservations’. Error 404, this website does not exist.
I call Air Zimbabwe.
‘Hello?’ A woman’s voice.
‘Hi, I’d like to book a flight.’
The line goes dead. I call again. This time, I get an automatic answering system. I press 7 for reservations. Click, wait, ring-ring. Ring-ring. Ring-ring. After four minutes, I hang up.
I wait an hour, try again. I get the ‘hello’ lady.
‘I’d like to book a flight,’ I say.
‘When are you leaving?’
‘Well, if it’s not urgent, can you call back tomorrow?’
I call again the next day, 8.01, right after they open. I get the same lady, she takes my dates, destination, last name.
‘So do I pay over the phone, or?’
‘You have to go to our booking center in Harare. Or the airport, whichever is closer for you.’
The next day I go to the booking office in Harare. It’s open-plan, desks on one side of the room, counters on the other and a couch in between where at least 10 people are waiting. They seem to be lined up to talk to the booking agents at the desks, so I go straight to the ‘pay here’ counter.
I give the counter-lady my reservation number and tell her I need to pay. She tells me I have to go to the desks.
I sit on the couch for 15 minutes, then I’m called to one of the desks. I give the desk-lady my reservation number. She tells me the times of my flights have changed, each one has been bumped back 30 minutes. She also tells me the flights are half the price they told me on the phone. She rips a corner off a piece of paper, writes my reservation number on it. ‘Pay at the counter,’ she says.
I go to the counter-lady again, give her the scrap of paper. She prints out my booking from an old printer, one line at a time. She rips off the little hole-punch strips from both sides, staples it to my flight tickets. I pull my credit card out of my back pocket.
‘Credit card? You have to go back to the desks.’
I wait 15 minutes on the couch again, get called by the same desk-lady, give her back the scrap of paper. She looks at it, types it into her computer.
‘I gave you the wrong price,’ she says. Now the price is back up to what the phone-lady quoted me originally. I give her my credit card and she pulls out one of those old swiper-things. She asks me to write my address on the piece of carbon paper and sign it. K-chunk, k-chunk, she prints out my booking again.
Then she leaves and goes to the other side of the room. I can see her talking to the counter-lady behind the glass. I wait 10 more minutes. She comes back, hands me my receipt and my tickets.
‘Thanks,’ I say.
‘Have a lovely trip,’ she says. ‘Next!’
Photo by Flickr user maarten-sr