Monday, December 19th, while my sister was on a flight from Amsterdam to Accra, we got the call that Starbow Airlines had cancelled their Christmas Day flight from Tamale to Accra.
This was unfortunate because approximately two months prior we had purchased three round-trip flights between Accra and Tamale heading north on the 22nd and back south on the 25th. We were staying at Zaina Lodge in Mole National Park, and at $500 a night, we didn’t really want to extend our stay until Monday. But with the promise of elephants, infinity pools, and relaxation, we didn’t really want to cut our trip short either.
Lucky for us, both the lodge and the airline were accommodating and we moved our reservations to the 21st to the 24th. My sister was going to have one less day to adjust to jet lag, but we figured she could do that just fine in an infinity pool with a mojito in hand.
Our flight up to Tamale was a breeze – they even served us our favorite local juice, Blue Skies. And I promise my next blog will be about our actual stay at Zaina Lodge (still haven’t gotten through all my photos yet!). But, unfortunately, our time living it up in luxury had to come to an end, and at 12:30pm on Saturday, December 24th, the lodge drove us back to the airport.
We arrived at 3:00pm a full hour and a half before our flight was scheduled to leave and were surprised to see only one line in the airport. We were under the impression that multiple airlines flew out of Tamale. We got up to the front and asked where the Starbow check-in was (everyone behind the counter had AWA – Africa World Airlines – gear on).
They were surprised to have to tell us that Starbow had cancelled their flights for the day. We then found out that it was AWA’s last flight of the day and it was booked. We were put on the wait list at numbers 12, 13, and 14. Promising, right?
I immediately got on the phone with Starbow and started ripping them apart for failing to notify us of the cancellation. If they had merely called, we could have booked with AWA before they were sold out or gotten on one of their two earlier flights.
The Starbow representative had the gall to tell me that they had tried calling us, but, unfortunately, our phone was off. So instead, they sent a text message. Well, guess what? OUR PHONES ARE NEVER OFF! And maybe, just maybe, I could have believed that the signal was down and the call simply didn’t make it through, but then she went and said they texted. Text messages don’t just disappear. Also, who texts? Shouldn’t an email have been sent instead?
So I not so politely asked what she expected us to do for the night – Christmas Eve, I added. She said the best she could do was switch our ticket to Monday morning…two days away. She couldn’t offer hotel recommendations, restaurant options, vouchers, or anything of use. We told her we expected a full refund when we returned to Accra, but that Starbow’s services would never be required by us again.
We turned our attention back to AWA. They were magical, they really were. Two passengers didn’t arrive and they bumped us up to one and two. But that was the problem…one and two meant that number three would have to stay behind. Chandler gallantly offered to stay in Tamale and let me and Brittany return to Accra that night, but I couldn’t picture our first Christmas Eve married spent apart.
While purchasing tickets to fly out first thing the next morning with AWA, a woman and her daughter approached us. They were flying back to Accra that evening, but their driver would be taking their car to Accra as well. It was a long drive she said, but he could take us if we were interested – free of charge. Our jaws dropped and all I could think was, “Only in Africa.” I had heard similar stories from Peace Corps volunteers in Ethiopia and now this woman’s crazy generosity was happening to us in Ghana. But I couldn’t really picture a similar scenario taking place in the United States.
It was all settled and we were having trouble getting a refund for our freshly purchased AWA flight when the driver called with the news that he wasn’t driving straight to Accra (which, leaving at 4:00pm would have gotten us back around midnight). Instead, he was overnighting in Kumasi. We once again thanked the woman for her incredible kindness, but decided if we were going to get in to Accra at the same time whether we flew the next morning or drove through part of the night, we’d rather stick it out in Tamale.
We got on TripAdvisor’s website and found the best-ranked place to stay in Tamale, which wasn’t a hotel, but specialty lodging – African Dream Hotel. We booked the “Executive Suite” so we could all share the room and found a taxi to take us over.
We ate a surprisingly good meal of vegetarian groundnut soup (aka peanut soup) and rice balls – Brittany’s first true taste of Ghanaian food – underneath twinkling Christmas lights, clearly set up for the owner’s personal Christmas Eve dinner with friends later on.
We got back to our room at 7:00pm. Brittany and I finished the movie we had started the night before and Chandler finished listening to his book on tape. Then, at exactly 8:30pm, we did our best to fall asleep…all sharing what I can only describe as the largest bed I’ve ever seen.
We woke up the next morning, ate a few bites of a truly horrible breakfast and tried to pretend we felt adventurous by not showering in the sketchily-lit bathroom the night before.
Then, the best thing that could have happened to us happened to us: our flight took off from Tamale and landed in Accra : ) We were home and we made it by Christmas Day.
Now, maybe you’re wondering if Starbow reimbursed us like they said they would. Well, we’re still waiting. We weren’t really surprised to find their airport office closed when our flight landed. If they can’t bother to call passengers when they cancel flights, why would they bother manning their offices? They haven’t heard the last from us.
But now, now that it’s all over and I’ve spent another week relaxing in our home, I realize our cancelled flight gave my sister something she’d have never gotten otherwise – an absolutely ridiculous story from her time here in Ghana. She’s back in the United States now, but I hope she never forgets the Christmas Eve she spent in this hotel room in Tamale, Ghana: