Of My Challenges in Travel, I Have Never Had One Where the Solution Was a Walk-Up Ticket to Central African Republic

Easter in Douala, Cameroon started with a brisk, humid walk to a church service, Chinese neighborhood, market where I was unsuccessfully robbed, and past closed airline offices.

I was to fly Camair to Libreville, Gabon at 12:45 and had not successfully purchased my ticket. Attempts on the website create a supposed 3-day hold for which you are to call or pay in person. No other website I could find sells their tickets. They list many phone numbers, some of which are disconnected, the rest are never answered. Their only overseas sales agent is in Paris and requires in-person payment. Saturday my inbound flight was delayed 3.5 hours and their airport offices were already closed so it was down to day of departure.

I showed up at 9:45 to find their check-in desk empty. Ticket office locked. Airport security directed me to a Camair VIP Office that amazingly had two people.

The agent was friendly with good English, “Oh, there’s no flight today. I’m sorry you weren’t notified.” She noted it was a good thing I had not managed to pay!

To my happy surprise she agree to walk with me to the airport police of the transit visa to ask them to extend it beyond 24 hours. No dice. The officer insisted it could only be granted once and for 24 hours only, regardless of flight cancellation. For a moment I thought to go out and come back later with a different shirt and my other passport and hope they didn’t ask what flight I just came in on!

I knew there was to be a RwandAir flight tomorrow and she found an airport general ticket office open. Apparently other passengers found out about the Camair cancel in advance because it was sold out. No way to Gabon until Tuesday.

The first option I thought was to try to get to Paris on the midnight Air France flight from Douala. My visa could stretch till then and I would just go back to the Ibis hotel. However, losing a country and ending a trip like would be a downer, even if I could change my Delta award ticket.

But, there also was this Kenya Airways flight to Bangui, Central African Republic, and a young aid worker I now call my Easter Angel of Bangui had told me visas are no longer required of US citizens.

In a snap I bought the ticket.

Check-in was slow because the airport’s systems were down. Everything was manual. I did get checked in but gave up trying to get my airport lounge card written. We had already had some back and forth because the didn’t recognize Delta Diamond Medallion (still happens) and the SkyMiles card makes the SkyTeam ElitePlus logo almost illegible. “Are you Silver?” he asked.

I thought the Priority Pass lounge was the same one as Keyna uses. Oops. Priority Pass was somewhere landside and I only realized after immigration. The airside lounge refused to let me in without the invite card (it happens) and the gate agents couldn’t get their check-in agents to send a card over. They did tip me off that if I walked to the end of the terminal, and turned left toward some empty offices, there would be open wifi.

Douala Airport Free Wifi Corridor

Over that way were two employees on break and the connection was fast. I used Google Hangouts Dialer and to my amazement (Diamond Medallion line), Delta agreed to reissue tomorrow’s ticket from Libreville-New York to the next day from Bangui as an even exchange. Didn’t even recalculate the taxes and I don’t care who came out ahead. (If there had been a flight today/tomorrow I could have done it all from Douala as one award.)

And so I was off to Bangui for their legislative election day. Fun times!

Can’t say I miss Cameroon, every traveler I met said both Douala and Yaounde are among the most dysfunctional airports on the continent, but wait, my Air France flight leaves CAR before sunset and then stops for 4 hours in Yaounde to avoid a midnight France arrival. I shall return!

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  • Stefan, I must say, you have quite the adventures. My limited (only 12 weeks or so) time in Ghana left me with plenty of stories, but nowhere near what you seem to have cataloged in just a week or two! Hearing of some of the improvements and also the adventure, though do tempt me to return.

  • Mike

    I would love to read more in-depth stories of the hotels you stayed at, the restaurants you ate in, and the adventures you had outside of the airport during your times in this part of Africa…..

  • Joey

    Did you pay using cash or a credit card for the ticket to Bangui? Hopefully the cc machine was working!

  • DaveS

    Terrific stories – from the comfort of my living room! Fortunately I’m still at the point where there are plenty of “easy” African countries to visit, so hoping that by the time I get to Cameroon and CAR (if ever) things will have sorted themselves out a bit. I do hope for plenty of Africa travel the next few years.

  • P T

    Stefan, you amaze me. So many could learn about patience, flexibility, sense of humor, and wu wei from you. Don’t let me forget resourcefulness.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @P T- I did lose my temper in The Gambia!

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @DaveS – these should be last on Africa priority list.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Joey – I did have cash since was expecting Camair to be cash only, turned out could use Visa (not MasterCard or Amex) which has mostly been the situation this trip. Funny thing is a few years ago most of my best cards were Visa, now they are MasterCard.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Mike – I lucked into some great, reasonably priced hotels and will do a series.

  • Frustrating! Sounds like you handled it pretty well though. Trip cancellations are the worst because you have no way to know and plan, unless you are VERY thorough up front.

    Did you check any of your cards insurance policies? The trip cancellation ones tend to be very good.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @James – the good thing was I had not paid for the Camair ticket yet and so it was just flight difference for my new ticket and Delta took care of my award back to NY, I didn’t suffer any economic loss. My only attempt to claim in trip cancellation was with Chase and they have many loopholes including, amazingly, do not cover alternate flight! And round-trip from home country and other ways to weasel out.

  • Shannon

    oh boy what a nightmare! In general is it a worse experience than what you had in Indonesia? I dont understand why man like adventure in Africa? Does Mrs. RTP ask you the same question?

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  • Where is the link to your story about china town and unsuccessfully getting robbed?

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  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Ivan – I will get up some posts, hard to keep pace when on the road and flaky connections.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Shannon – and yet I am having fun, did not expect to get to CAR on this trip and to get to it so easily!

    Mrs RTC refuses to discuss my trips other than her protests about them.