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.
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!