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Glorious Uncertainties

By Terry Joseph
September 19, 2003

His ebullience about cricket suggests that acclaimed historian and author CLR James (Beyond a Boundary) must have deliberately overlooked similarities between the game and our national airline, BWIA.

For openers, with a singularly nebulous marketing tag as "the sport of glorious uncertainties," we can't be sure if cricket derived its description as "a gentleman's game" from double-entendre sexist bigotry or player-etiquette.

Certainly, there is nothing mild-mannered about pace-bowlers of lethal capacity delivering bouncers to batsmen wearing crash-helmets, rib-cage protection, padding on arms and legs, thick gloves and a hard-plastic guard against blows below the belt.

It is all pure spin, of course, promising one thing but delivering quite another, not unlike last Saturday's experience with BWIA as we attempted to board flight 254 to Tobago, an exercise that redefined uncertainty. Now, we take you back to the Oval. Cricket lovers argue that proper conduct of the game requires mastery of strategic-planning and psychology, conceding few reasons for stopping a match, among them poor light, an error of judgement while Charran Singh is running between wickets, disastrous pitch preparation and, of course, rain.

Again, parallels with BWIA swiftly surface, the airline having portrayed itself in a bad light, asking passengers to run between departure lounge and aircraft, presumably because of bad preparation and, of course, rain. With passengers herded in the departure lounge expecting to leave Trinidad at 12.45 pm, BWIA finally announced shortly before the clock struck one that we should stay put. We could not go beyond the boundary, as Flight 254 could not be boarded during the downpour.

Stumped passengers exchanged looks of incredulity common to cricketers dismissed in that fashion, suddenly realising that, during wet weather at Piarco International Airport, it was easier to get to Tanzania than Tobago; a frightening thought in a country with six months of rain each year. But glorious uncertainty was yet to peak.

As the rain intensified, BWIA's next announcement came: "Passengers with small children, or those requiring assistance to board, please come to the door of the departure area." Speaking at large, a woman of no obvious encumbrance wondered whether the airline's baby-prams and wheelchairs were recently fitted with canopies.

Precisely how they disposed of that select group escaped my attention but not-so-glorious uncertainty heightened to scary suspicion when we eventually boarded, discovering neither an infant nor paraplegic in the cabin. Through the port-side window, I saw a huge chute leading to an underground cavern. Oh no, I thought, they couldn't do that! Still, the sight of that gaping hole in the ground was thoroughly unsettling. But we're getting ahead of the story.

Even as the flight-schedule monitor continued to defiantly validate the original untruth, showing 254 as "On Time" during entire episode, the third announcement came at 1.13 pm, some 28 minutes after our promised departure. Like any collector's item, it was worth the wait.

"Passengers who do not mind running through the rain can now board the aircraft," the honeyed voice said, quickly adding the indemnity clause "We' re not asking you to do that, but if you don't mind running through the rain, you may now board. The rest may remain comfortably seated." Apart from scoring low in psychology and strategic-planning, the idea was fundamentally preposterous.

What exactly would happen if all but one of us took up the option of braving the rain? Would they close the door and take off, punishing the lone protestor for lack of team-spirit? Or, wouldn't we still all have to wait on those who demanded just a tad more dignity when flying to Tobago? All this was coming from an airline that once sold and even gave away huge umbrellas as collectibles and, up to not so long ago, kept some handy in event of rain. In the halcyon days, BWIA actually upgraded to renting of maxi-taxis in such circumstances.

The irony of it all was that, hundreds of years earlier, aboriginal Trinis probably handled the journey by canoe in any weather but, here we were, marooned at a multi-billion-dollar 21st Century dry-weather airport, our only comfort the knowledge that the maritime alternative, the inter-island ferry MF Panorama, harboured even greater uncertainties.

In addition to ongoing complaints about delays, the Panorama last month forced Grenada-bound passengers to literally walk the plank when disembarking and last week, an accident claimed the life of a seaman when its huge cargo door fell, pinning him to the dock.

BWIA, on the other hand, boasts 63 years of continuous air-safety, a claim that evidently extends to protecting passengers from the common cold except, as we found out Saturday, those caught with casual footwear, by the slips that can occur while trying to navigate post-rain puddles on the smooth ramp.

It has to be said, though, given the weather at 4,100 feet, the aircraft was expertly handled. Indeed, I was about to forget all the foregoing until the stewardess offered a parting shot as we began our descent to Crown Point: "We hope the rain doesn't affect your weekend," she chirped.

Whatever could the young lady mean? Isn't that what caused us to be only now arriving? Did she join us in mid-air?

This last uncertainty was most disturbing, an anxiety that didn't dissipate until well after touchdown.

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