Little did I know that, on the eve of our great North Africa adventure, our decision to screen Casablanca would be the inspiration for one of the reports from the trip. Sadly, however, it has come to pass that we are stranded in Casablanca, awaiting exit papers to Tunisia. Really it is more like we are awaiting the next flight but it feels the same: nothing we can do and nothing more the airline will do. And so we wait.
In our case the situation was a pretty simple yet rather egregious snafu on the part of Royal Air Maroc. The morning started reasonably enough. Some minor confusion upon checkout from the Riad regarding the bill but those details were quickly resolved and we quickly made our way to the airport. A line here, a line there and next thing we knew we were in the international terminal for our domestic flight from Marrakesh to Casablanca. The flight continues to London and I guess no one ever takes just the domestic portion. Either way, we were in the international transit area awaiting our flight amongst the hordes boarding Ryanair and easyJet flights to the Continent.
At the posted boarding time no gate assignment on the departure screens nor any update to the flight status. A full 20 minutes later – only 20 minutes to departure now – still nothing posted. I wandered over to the lounge (small but clean and decently stocked) and asked the agent there what was going on. Not to worry, she assured me, as the inbound was only delayed a little bit and the flight would leave soon. She was right. We were only about 10 minutes late pushing back and made it to Casablanca with 60 minutes to make the connection over to the second flight of the day.
Then things got ugly.
None of the departures screens in the terminal had any details about our flight. Through some dumb luck we happened across a wholly different set of monitors that indicated that departures to five countries, including ours, should proceed to a specific gate. We headed down to the gate, now about 40 minutes prior to departure to discover a desolate area. We were the only passengers there. Not good at all. There was a gate agent off in the corner flirting with a police officer. She seemed to suggest that it was fine, that we’d be fine and that she’d call a bus to take us to the gate. Ruh-roh.
Twenty minutes prior to departure we’re still waiting for the aforementioned bus to appear. By now we’ve been joined by three other passengers, two of whom were also headed to Tunis. I ask again about the bus, noting that it is very close to departure and that I am quite worried we won’t make the flight. Eventually a bus shows up and the five of us scurry aboard. And wait – and wait – and wait. Precious minutes tick away before we finally start rolling to transfer to the other terminal.
The bus drops us of about 150 feet from an aircraft, the one that happens to be bound for Tunis. Unfortunately, we aren’t going to head directly on board. Instead we have to go into another transit area in the new terminal. As we enter there is an agent inside who come out, calling for the Tunis passengers to hurry so that we can make our flight. We hurry, as instructed, only to get to the gates about 60 seconds later and watch as the other gate agents laugh at us and the plane rolls away. We’re now officially screwed.
At this point the four of us who have missed the flight become allies. It was of great help considering my limited French skills. A cacophony of French, Arabic and English overwhelms one agent after another. How to get help? “Nothing we can do for you here.” We head back to the original terminal where we visit the transit desk. “Nothing we can do for you here.”
So we immigrate. Again. In our case, because we never really left Morocco they actually just annulled our exit stamps and gave us additional entry stamps. Then the search for useful help continued.
No one was willing to help and few were willing to point us in the correct direction to even see help. Ultimately, whether by design or just dumb luck, we ended up in what I believe was the Royal Air Maroc Station Manager’s office. Even he wasn’t all that interested in lending assistance until we started to pull out chairs and make ourselves comfortable in his office.
Eventually we did get help. A guy took our boarding passes, wandered off for an hour or so and eventually came back with passes for the early flight tomorrow. They took us to retrieve our bags, only one of which was located.
They provided us with hotel and food vouchers at a pretty dingy airport hotel where the lunch offerings were pretty bad and the restaurant itself had not a single clean table. Needless to say we ended up buying our own meal at the other restaurant in the hotel to avoid that mess. There’s a cute little bar that is dingy, smoke-filled and over-priced, but the value of a wee bit of alcohol at this point is not to be underestimated. The WiFi doesn’t work and the room is pretty dingy though the sheets appear to be clean.
And it only took us about 3 hours to get all that sorted out.
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