airport security
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I spend a lot of time in airports. I wish it was for fun – but mostly, it’s for work travel. And because I frequently trawl the halls of the international terminal at OR Tambo, I have learned some lessons:

  1. While waiting in the airport security queue, you have plenty of time to put your wallet, cellphone and small change into your bag. You also have time to take your laptop and liquids out of your bag. Meaning that you can just slide your stuff onto the scanner belt and saunter straight through when you reach the front.
  2. Despite this, there will always be people who reach the front, and then realise that they need to turn out their pockets and take out their lap tops.
  3. These are usually the same people that decided to wear studded jackets, metallic shirts, and every bangle in their possession. To fly internationally. Because that’ll be comfortable. They also somehow keep coinage and hairclips in every pocket available, including that small pocket inside the front pocket of your jeans that would seemingly serve no purpose except to hold forgotten pieces of metal that set off the alarms. And these are also the people that pack their laptops at the bottom of their roll-on suitcases, and have to do a full scale unpack and repack on either side of airport security.
  4. On a happier note, one can avoid the frustration of watching all this repeatedly unfold (in slow motion) by playing Sudoku on a smartphone.
  5. Travelling on Monday and Friday mornings is pure chaos. Travelling on a Sunday morning, or midmorning midweek, is the best time to be in the airport.
  6. Avoid the airport in the evenings. Any evenings. But particularly Friday evenings. Actually, Fridays in general are bad.
  7. And most importantly, WHEREVER POSSIBLE, avoid booking a return flight that lands in the late afternoon/early evening on a Friday or a Sunday. At those times, Qantas and Emirates and about thirteen other regional flights all land in concert. Each airbus funnels about 600 passengers into immigration, and the smaller flights can be anything between 100 and 300 people a piece. There are literally thousands of people flocking into the railings and spilling out onto the immigration hall apron. Madness.
  8. Also, many of these thousands will be children, and thanks to those fun new anti-child-laundering/whatever visa regulations, there are constant hold-ups while birth certificates and affidavits are inspected by deeply-harassed home affairs officials.

Usually, I manage to avoid Friday return flights. But in December, I had committed to a Saturday social event, so I flew back a day early and got caught in the crowds of tourists: triple the normal amount of children, all pre-rendered overwrought by the lack of sleep due to too many hours of inflight entertainment. The outcome: I spent more time in the immigration queue than I had in the air.


All was not lost.

Because for the last 40 minutes that I stood in line, I watched an older Afrikaans gentleman have an altercation with an immigration official. The Afrikaner had gotten feisty about being ignored after attempting to demand an explanation for why it was all taking so long (he was already at the front of the queue, so I’m not quite sure why he chose that particular moment to fight with officialdom). Importantly, said gentleman foolishly shoved ‘tapped’ the official’s shoulder to get his attention, after his angry “Hey you!” didn’t work.

The immigration official immediately confiscated the man’s passport. And while I couldn’t quite hear what the border official was saying, from the look of things, the closed caption would read something like: [Mr Van Something was told that he would be dealt with once the rest of the people had been dealt with]. Meanwhile, more Airbuses were continuing to arrive, and the queue was now extending out of the building and onto the tarmac.

By the time I was through, the Afrikaner was steadily iterating between angry protest and plea-filled apologies. Personally, I hope he stayed there all night.

It’s not that I didn’t share his frustration – because I did (and still do). But it’s a bit like frustration with traffic: as though, somehow, we’re entitled to have no traffic in our day. Except no. There is traffic because lots of people want to get to or back from work at the same time as us. It’s not someone’s fault. It’s just life.

And in this case: yes, we were all standing in queues for a very long time – but this was not because Immigration Control were understaffed or inefficient. It was because thousands of people were being airbussed into the terminal. And when there are thousands of people in a line, things take a while. If we had wanted to avoid the queues, then we could have all not travelled that day, or we could have stayed home, but none of those options involved both being able to travel that afternoon and being able to not stand in an immigration queue.

Why am I mentioning this?

Well truthfully, I had forgotten about it until I read this article on Moneyweb this morning:

Ombud finds in favour of Metropolitan in miscalculated RA case

And it followed on from this earlier article:

Metropolitan’s pension fund blunder

Go and have a read. The summary is this:

  • A Retirement Annuity (RA) holder, who did not want to be named by Moneyweb, needed to take early retirement due to a disability.
  • How an RA works:
    • You save money each month (for which you’re allowed a tax deduction)
    • On retirement, you’re allowed to take one third of whatever you’ve saved as a lump sum, and two thirds have to be used to buy an annuity (basically, you buy the right to a future stream of pension income).
  • The RA holder had been receiving regular statements about the balance in the RA (although the RA holder does claim that the address was wrong). But if he/she had read those statements, he/she would have known that there was about R850,000 sitting in there.
  • Unfortunately, right at the crucial moment, Metropolitan made a mistake in their calculation of how much money was due.
  • Instead of calculating a third of the RA savings, a Metropolitan RA administrator (probably an ex-administrator) emailed out a quote that said: “Here’s a lump sum of more than what you’ve saved, and we’re giving you an annuity equal to double that as well.”
  • That is: instead of a R280,000 lump sum and a R570,000 annuity, there was a R900,000 lumpsum and a R1.8 million annuity.
  • Obviously, this was accepted, and the lump sum was paid, and annuity payments were made, and time passed.
  • Then Metropolitan realised their mistake. So they went back to the policyholder and said “Terribly sorry about this mistake here. We couldn’t be more sorry, really – it’s our money that we’ve paid out! What we’re suggesting is: we’ll let you keep everything that you’ve received so far – but going forward, we’re going to drop the annuity back to what it should have been (ie. back to the R570,000). You have two weeks to let us know. If you decide to reject our offer, then we’re going to pursue the recovery of the incorrect amounts paid to you.”

So to summarise:

  • The original deal should have been a R280,000 lump sum and a R570,000 annuity, based on total savings of R850,000.
  • Under the proposed deal on the table, there was a R900,000 lump sum, a year worth of higher than normal payments, and a R570,000 annuity. Basically: a windfall of well over R600,000.
  • And instead, the RA holder decided to risk having to repay the windfall, and fight Metropolitan to keep the R1.8 million annuity.

Of course, there will always be lawyers in the world that will say things like damages and consumer protections and “Metropolitan should just take this on the chin and avoid the reputation risk.”

But in the real world, while we might empathise with the sense of loss that comes from having a monthly annuity income slashed by almost two thirds, there is a practical voice that says “Only, you were never meant to have that extra bit though, right? I mean, you didn’t save it. And the extra that you’re hoping to keep really does belong to someone else. And you were already going to keep a whole lot more than what you were meant to get. So…”

And in some ways, this feels a lot like re-watching the immigration queue saga. Because now the Pension Fund Administrator has ruled in favour of Metropolitan.

From Moneyweb:

The PFA produced a 13-page ruling in which it noted that it believed the complainant should have been alerted to the possibility of an error in the amount he was offered. This is because it was over 100% more than the illustrative value of the policy 20 months before.

The PFA also found that the pensioner had not shown that Metropolitan had acted negligently or unlawfully in making the miscalculation. Neither had he proven that he would suffer any financial loss due to the error.

On this basis it ruled that “the complainant is not entitled to the overpayment”.

For the sake of the RA holder, I really hope that Metropolitan relents and goes back to its initial offer. Because that’s a devastating thing to happen to someone who has recently retired.

But I also hope that Metropolitan makes a similar miscalculation on my RA. Because who doesn’t love a windfall?

Rolling Alpha posts about finance, economics, and sometimes stuff that is only quite loosely related. Follow me on Twitter @RollingAlpha, or like my page on Facebook at Or both.