Immigration systems were offline at Terminal B at OR Tambo International Airport on Sunday, causing huge delays for passengers.
Passengers boarding international flights were all funnelled through the security and passport control queues behind the check-in desks of Terminal A. The queue stretched out of Terminal A, all the way through a door that is usually kept closed, to Terminal B.
As travellers were checking the time and nervously watching the queue, airport staff started moving up and down the line searching for passengers who didn’t have long to make their flights.
There were a few staff who were not on an official assignment, however, but hunting for opportunity.
Three passengers and I were ushered to the next terminal by an airport staff member who said she was going to help us get to our flights.
“You need to tip me for helping you,” she said as we walked, and we laughed. It turned out I was the only one who thought it was a joke.
Our helper pushed us through the massive line of passengers towards the special processing area for crew and assisted passengers. When she was well ahead of us, one of the travellers with me said that she was serious about the “tip”.
“This is South Africa,” he said with a shrug.
Upon arriving at the crew and assisted passengers queue, the line was so congested that our helper was directed to use a special door that gives access to the front of the queue at the standard security check.
She pushed us into the normal security queue and said that she would meet us after we cleared passport control. This struck me as strange.
I walked through Duty Free and to the gate. A different staff member then said to me: “Hey, aren’t you flying to Madrid?”
“Yes,” I said, wondering whether checked-in passengers were already being called to board.
He started calling a name – the woman who had helped us get through immigration on time to make our flights.
“I want my tip,” she said.
“Tip?” I asked.
“Did you think I was doing it out of the kindness of my heart, helping you through?”
I was incredulous. “I thought you were getting us to our planes on time. Your job. I’m a frequent traveller and no one has ever asked for money to help get me through immigration on time.”
“This was your first time? So you’re not going to give me a tip?” she asked, angry.
“No. It’s very unusual,” I said.
“Well. Good luck.” she said.
As she walked away, she dialled a number and put her phone to her ear – and I was worried she would call in a favour to inconvenience me.
I was worried for nothing, however. I was able to board my flight without incident, and it even managed to depart on time – despite the problems at passport control.
As for my “helper” – the last I saw she was pacing around the Duty Free area, talking on her phone.
OR Tambo has issued a statement following this report, saying it would ensure that it cracked down on employees who ask passengers and airport visitors for tips.