The day is 22 November 2021 at the Kotoka International Airport, Accra, Ghana. Travelers are about to check in for a KLM flight bound for Amsterdam. The passengers in one short queue consist of only Caucasian, Asian, Indian, and people of another skin color except for black.
When I tried to join that queue, the local staff of the airline asked me if I was traveling first class. He ejected me, saying that was for “priority passengers”. One passenger of apparent Indian origin breezed past me and joined the “priority” queue without any questions asked. He wasn’t traveling first class either, as it later turned out after boarding.
After refusing to allow me to join the “priority queue”, the staff member instead lifted his nose and pointed to another queue waiting to board the same flight. Sticking out from one corner of the departure hall was a long winding queue snaking through the entire hall and spilling out onto the street like a secret. They were all black people, apparently, Ghanaians and other people of African origin – thus inadvertently or by design, creating an apartheid system of checking-in.
When I protested about the glaring discriminatory practice one of the airline staff dismissed me with a comment that KLM is a private company and therefore had all the rights to do whatever ever it pleases. And another staff explained that the non-African travelers usually travel lighter and therefore their checking-in goes faster, which is a very poor reason for creating an apartheid system in the heart of Ghana.
It is not even a general a rule that all non-Africans travel lightly while Ghanaians and other Africans haul in tonnage of luggage all of the time. I, for instance, on that day had only one suitcase while a couple in the so-called priority was dragging in four suitcases along with hand luggage.
If priority is given to light travelers, why hasn’t the KLM staff tried to do it by routinely examining travelers’ luggage rather than using a system of skin color to determine who gets priority treatment?
It seems to me that the system of separating out travelers based on skin color during check-in at the Kotoka International Airport is routine. It is not the first time that I had experienced it. On a previous trip, a similar story was sold to me but after boarding, we all ended up in the economy class.
Anyone who has traveled by air knows quite well that seats in the aircraft are usually pre-allocated and passengers do not rush to choose their preferred seats. However, entering the aircraft ahead of others does provide a marginal advantage of securing a space in the overhead lockers, which usually quickly run out of space – apparently one must be of the right color to be assured of the facility.
However, I must concede that when I confronted an aircrew staff of KLM after we had boarded, she was surprised, and obviously unaware of the discriminatory practice at the check-in and did not agree to the preference being given to people of lighter skin color. That kind of discrimination she condemned as “primitive”.
Given that the KLM as an airline has not devised or authorized the discriminatory practice against black people at the check-in at Kotoka International airport, then it must be an initiative of the local airline staff. And in that connection, it has to be pointed out it is an exhibition of inferiority complex by Ghanaians to institute a system of discrimination against their fellow black people.
It would be in the interest of KLM to dismantle it because it tarnishes the image of an otherwise reputable and reliable airline.