Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Abuja airport

I had heard so many horror stories about the Abuja airport – stories of shakedowns, intimidations, requests for money, fees for bringing a laptop, problems with taxis – that I got off the plane alone rather frightened at what I’d encounter and how I’d handle it. I was relived to find a smooth and fairly-hassle free experience.

After disembarking, you get your passport stamped. There are carts available at the luggage carousel as well as porters. I was carrying less than $5,000 cash, so customs ended up being easy as well and there is no problem bringing in a personal laptop.

If you have a driver awaiting you, you’ll find him just after customs. If you are going to take a taxi, you have to walk out of the airport and about a block to the right. Make sure to take a green taxi with a number on the side. Reports of robberies come most frequently from what are called “painted” or non-official (green) taxis.

When it’s time to depart, locals told me I could arrive one hour before departure. But expats told me to leave my hotel four hours before departure, which I found was much too early. There are quite a few steps involved in departure, but it’s not so difficult. Unless you expect a lot of traffic enroute to the airport, leaving 2.5-3 hours before your flight should be sufficient. If you have a late night flight and your driver is not from Abuja, keep in mind that he may not be able to return home, since driving at night in some places is discouraged.

The steps in departure are:
1. Change any leftover money. There is a bureau de change next to a shop on the right-hand side of the airport upon entering.
2. Show your passport.
3. Go through the security machine. If you are using a porter, he will take your luggage through the machine, then will expect payment.
4. Just to the right of the security machine exit, people will take a look at your luggage.
5. Over to the left of the ticket counters, you weigh your luggage on a scale and get a slip.
6. Then you can check in and get a boarding pass
7. Finally, go through passport control and up to the waiting lounge.
8. There may be another security machine check before boarding the flight.

It sounds like a lot, but it went pretty quickly.

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