Airport Grievances

Thursday 22 December 2011

Nothing like going on vacation to remind you what a nightmare travel in Gabon can be.  It doesn't seem to matter when we travel, how prepared we are or how much we've paid for the tickets, we will have problems.

The Port Gentil airport has been working on a new runway in hopes that Air France will begin direct flights here instead of through Libreville.  This started months ago and they had hopes to be finished in January but of course, they are behind schedule.  Sunday night the government announced they were going to close the airport from 6 pm - 6 am commencing immediately.  Most international flights arrive in LBV 5:30 pm and after so this means everyone who is arriving must now find accommodation for the night.  Did I mention, this is going to continue for at least 2 months?  (Luckily, Joe's company re-arranged everything for us while we were in the air so we didn't have to do it when we arrived.)

Air travel in Africa is something very different from the orderly and routine travel we're used to in North America.  It can be incredibly aggravating and I could probably write grievances from now until the new year arrives but I'll pick the worst.

  • Regional travel in Gabon is a nightmare.  On average, I'd say 30% of flights are cancelled.  This is almost never done ahead of time.  Often, you are at the airport and checking in when someone comes to notify you that the flight is no longer going.  Sometimes, they don't even refund your ticket.  There are weeks where things are pretty stable and then there are weeks where the majority of flights don't go.  Of those that do fly, 95% are not on time.

  • We're used to checking ourselves in to the flight and showing our passports to verify our identity.  Here, anyone can check you in.  Often, you have 1 man ahead of you in the line and he makes several trips unloading dozens of bags in front of you.  The 1 man in front is actually checking in 6 different people with multiple bags.  It's ridiculous and it slows things down incredibly.  The attendants complain, we complain but no one ever puts a stop to it.

  • There aren't many laws here that are enforced so many people just don't understand how to follow the rules.  When traveling internationally either to Gabon or from Gabon, a lot of passengers completely disregard the carry-on baggage allowance.  People show up at the gate with 4 giant bags and get angry when they are told they have to check 3 of them.  It also means that you have to make a mad rush to board just to ensure you have room for your one allotted bag because often the overhead storage is full before 1/3 of the plane is boarded.

  • For some reason, someone decided that all large flights coming from South Africa, Germany and France should depart and arrive within 10 minutes of each other.  This is never compensated for in terms of immigration and customs.  Undoubtedly, there are hundreds of people lined up and only 2 immigration workers stamping passports.  Often times, one of those 2 immigration workers decide they need a coffee break just as you make your way to the front and no one replaces him/her leaving you to return to the back of a now, much longer line.

  • The regional airlines have conveniently made their baggage weight a few kilograms lower than all other airlines.  (A clever money making strategy for them, but annoying for us.)  We are almost always overweight on the inter-Gabon flights so after you've finally fought your way to the front of the check-in line, you are told that you now have to find the ticketing counter, pay your excess baggage costs and return to the line to present the receipt to get your boarding ticket.  Just when you couldn't stand that line a second longer, you have to go back.

I'm not even mentioning that much of this occurs without air conditioning in 30 degree heat.

Flying from Canada, South Africa & Europe, even with their problems, is like a breath of fresh air after Gabon.

I know I've been a bit absent from the blog but that is because Joe & I were enjoying a fabulous vacation in Mauritius.  We're now back in POG and as soon as I get the rest of the photos uploaded, I'll post about the trip!


  1. Love this post! I have been traveling around Africa for the last year and air travel is always its own experience! Thanks for the info...I will be visiting Gabon very soon! Looking forward to your next post!

  2. Thanks for reading!

    Let me know if you need any advice/recommendations when planning your visit to Gabon.


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