The hippo family arrive at their boarding gate juggling carry-on luggage and airline pillows. At the check-in desk, an authoritative secretary bird scans their passports with a sideways eye. Her headgear quivers while she taps on her briefcase computer. “Welcome aboard Safari Air Express,” she squawks. “Next please.”
Once through to the waiting area, the hippos find a row of spare seats amid a flock of noisy guinea fowl dashing about in circles, heading back and forth to the bathroom and squabbling over snacks. At the back of the room, a pair of snoozing cheetah are laid out horizontally, limbs falling awkwardly off rigid seats, in transit from a connecting flight. A meerkat wearing headphones chatters to a faceless friend while holding up a smart-phone screen. Johnny hippo runs to look out to the waiting planes.
A voice chirrups out to passengers to embark. “We are now boarding rows 35 to 23.” All passengers leap to their feet and rhino barges through, boarding pass in hand, insisting on being first onto the plane. The herd of zebra and wildebeest part to make way and the hapless ostrich standing sentry on the door has no choice but to let him through.
Once on board, little Johnny hippo stresses about the prospect of squeezing past sleeping lion in order to get to the bathroom.
“I’m frightened Dad,” he says.
“Don’t worry son, he won’t wake up,” papa hippo reassures. “Just be quick.”
Elephant is over-spilling onto two seats much to python’s chagrin. The snake attempts to reclaim his arm rest but to no avail, hence coils dejectedly up against the window.
A pack of laughing hyena giggle noisily at the back and baby warthog is doing laps of the aisles, tail up, at top speed. Giraffe peers over at her neighbour’s screen to make sure she’s watching the best movie. A pair of decorous flamingo arrange bags in overhead lockers and encourage passengers to settle down and take their seats. Captain buffalo coughs down the intercom system, flexes his muscles then takes the aeroplane controls. A semblance of order descends and they’re off. Lights dim and the cacophony quiets, albeit briefly.
A little later and the in-flight meal is served. Billy baboon pours drinks expertly from the trolley without spilling a drop. Vultures are the first to tear into the meal packaging and finish their food, before eyeing fellow passengers’ trays menacingly. Elephant grumbles that his bread roll is stale and there’s a bit of whining from the cheetahs who have just woken up and not received any food yet. Apparently the meat option has run out. The hippo kids are lying all over one another’s laps, upsetting the tray tables. Papa hippo harrumphs and disappears under his airline blanket. Lazy lion chews on a chicken bone while the warthog baby has passed out on the floor, fast asleep.
On landing, the guinea fowl flap and bustle their way to the front of the queue to disembark first (after rhino of course). There’s ruffling of feathers, shaking of fur and a flurry of movement throughout the cabin. At the back of the plain, tortoise has to be woken by a flight attendant and the laughing hyenas prove to have made a terrible mess. Just your average flight with Safari Air Express.