Today I was trying to work out if all of my problems fit the moniker of ‘first world problems’ or if  a lot of them were closer to ‘second world problems’. Which I know is not really a thing, well it is, but it’s not a popularised meme thing. The second world is something you don’t really hear much about, from the very brief Googling I literally just did, the ‘second world’ appears to consist of the former communist block of the old Soviet Union, a handful of Eastern European countries and Stoke-on-Trent.

I was going to make a blog post briefly listing some of my personal ‘first world problems’ but the phrase is more commonly used these days to describe rich people’s problems and I’m still not even sure if i’ve scraped my way out of working class yet, I certainly don’t have any problems that ended with ‘so in the end Olivia had to go without papaya for the rest of the week.’

Here’s a good example of one of my borderline problems. Last time I flew to South Africa the only airline I could afford to fly with was Ethiopian Airways. This meant a multiple hour stop off in Addis Ababa. You can see where I’m coming from now right? Air travel – first world / Ethiopian Airlines – third world. Now I have found from personal experience that a country’s main airport can be an interesting window into the country itself. I will qualify this with the following examples:

  • Frankfurt Airport (Germany) – Possibly the only airport I have never experienced delays at. Clinical and functional but also rather dull.
  • Charles De Gaulle Airport (France) – Was stranded here at one point when a drop of snow landed on a Heathrow runway and shut down the entire UK for 48 hours. Staff were incredibly arrogant and rude, the sandwiches were nice.
  • Amsterdam Airport (Netherlands) – Free Playstation 3’s to play and someone randomly served me a pancake while I was waiting. Confusing and laid back. Easily my favourite airport.
  • O.R. Tambo (South Africa) – Constantly surrounded by people looking to help you carry your luggage or show you where to go, all expecting a tip in return. Oh and the bathrooms are spotless, last time I took a shit in there someone ran into the cubicle after me and started scrubbing the seat.
  • Heathrow (England) – Frequent delays, uncaring staff, incredibly long customs queues. Always scared i’ll be turned away despite living here my entire life. Flying back to the North of England from Heathrow is always depressing when you’ve been somewhere nice. For example Dutch airports are full of windswept Surfer guys and their stick thin girlfriends. If you walk past the seating for a domestic flight to Manchester the clientele look as though they’ve just survived an explosion at a potato factory.
  • Cairo International (Egypt) – Lovely design, very aesthetically pleasing. Turned a corner whilst looking for a toilet to find two guards with AK-47’s telling me to go another way… No longer needed the toilet.

Those are a few examples of airports i’ve visited (whilst flying, I’m not a weirdo). So make what you will of Ethiopia based off the following description of my time flying with them.

For a long haul flight the economy class section of the plane felt extremely tightly packed, even for economy. It was easily one of the most uncomfortable flights I have ever been on, not least because the entertainment was terrible and every time an announcement was made over the tannoy the multi lingual announcer seemed to be screaming every piece of information as if he thought the tannoy system was broken when it was clearly working overtime. But time passed as it often does and eventually I arrived in the glorious city of Addis Ababa.

Now I should point out I have actually flown through Addis Ababa twice (yes that’s right, I did it once and decided it was so shit I’d try it again) I’m going to roll both stories together as I can’t imagine anyone is going to want to read ‘Ethiopian Airlines pt2’, if you’ve made it this far you’re probably realising even pt1 is a bit of a stretch. The reason I point this out is because my first trip to Addis Ababa was during the height of the Ebola epidemic in 2014.

So, we were herded off the aircraft and into a building that could have doubled as a youth detention centre for the criminally underprivileged. Then came one of the literal worst moments of my life. If you’re reading this but don’t know me very well, then you won’t know that I’m terribly claustrophobic. I just wanted to point that out now so you can really get into the character and realise just how close I was to soiling my underwear.

The genius’ at Addis Ababa had decided to erect a temporary Ebola checkpoint at the top of the escalators that served as the entrance point for all arrivals to the airport. Our plane landed and disembarked at the same time as two other large long haul flights. If you’re not piecing two and two together just yet, don’t worry I didn’t either. I stepped onto the busy escalator unaware that I was being funneled into a pressure cooker. The idiots didn’t turn the escalators off and were able to process maybe 2 people a minute through their popup ebola scanner (a fat man with a thermometer). A rate significantly slower than people were arriving.

As I reached the top of the escalator there was nowhere to go, the checkpoint was about 10 metres away but between me and it were easily hundreds of people. Unfortunately the escalator was unfazed by this and continued to funnel more in. As with all escalators the process is fairly one way, especially if behind you there’s a few thousand people all clamoring towards a connection flight that will get them out of this hell hole. Slowly but surely the corridor filled to beyond even the levels of a London commuter train. People were actually screaming, at least one woman went down under the waves of flesh… Lost forever amongst the sweaty crotches and carry on luggage.

In the end the dam burst and people rushed through the Ebola checkpoint and out to freedom, I remember thinking; ‘I honestly don’t care if someone has ebola just fucking let me out!‘ If you’re trying to picture the experience, this is the closest comparison I can make.

Now that was incident 1. Actually fuck it. I have enough still to write about that I am fairly certain I can fill another blog post. If you already read the part where I correctly surmised that nobody would be interested enough in my time at an airport to sit through 1 let alone 2 blog posts about it, just pretend I was being sarcastic and steel yourself for a rollercoaster ride of excitement in ‘Second World Problems / Ethiopian Airlines – Pt2’.

Tagline – this time it’s personal luggage allowance.