Posts Tagged ‘Robertsfield airport’

Monrovia, Abidjan – or: how to manage an airport

March 28, 2010

The terminal building at Robertsfield International Airport was completely destroyed during Liberia’s civil war. Another structure, next to the main building (it may have served as the KLM terminal at one point when Royal Dutch were still flying there), was the only place in a somewhat useable state. With a few modifications, it has served as the main terminal building since the late 1990s.

All of Robertsfield International Airport (photo: Palomarfil on Flickr)

But, as I said, it is really small. So how do you channel an Airbus full of passengers (rich, used to having people at their beck and call, notoriously short-fused and always in a hurry to get the hell through all those obnoxious control and check points) from the entrance through to the departure lounge? The Liberian answer is simple and hugely effective: you slow them down.

First passport control at the entry gate of the terminal. Second passport control at the door, just before you enter the building proper. Third passport control at the airline’s Welcome Desk. Fourth passport control before Immigration; fifth by Immigration personnel. Sixth and seventh at the security gate. Take the passengers through one by one. Be nice, be friendly. It works miracles. No mutterings, quietly, slowly but efficiently, one hundred plus people were guided through the tiny space.

Outside Robertsfield terminal (photo: Windsorca 313 on Flickr)

If they ever complete a new one, they should keep this system in place.

On to Abidjan with a tiny bit of trepidation: 22 hours to spare and no visa. The lady at the Ivorian Embassy in Monrovia was hugely disinterested in the unusual problem of wanting a transit visa for less than 24 hours. Like almost all consular staff, she should take a leaf out of the service rendered at arrival in Abidjan. Praises can’t be high enough.

First: a swing past the medical controls and on to the transfer counter. There, we meet Ibrahim. He listens to our problem, blows away the inevitable interloper who adds only noise to the conversation and guides us on. Does the airport have sleeping facilities?

Of course it does.

Can we get or luggage?

Of course you can, just give me the luggage tags, get up to the first floor where there is Le Makoré – and I’ll be coming back with your luggage.

Restaurant Le Makoré, Abidjan airport (photo by me. Much better pic coming up shortly)

Off to Le Makoré. The waiter in chief also runs the rooms. There are six of them, they have a noise-free airco (for obvious reasons the windows cannot be opened), hot and cold running water, beds, table, chair – basic but adequate. It’s CFA35,000 (€53 for two) – a bargain anywhere in Abidjan, et alone the airport.

After room inspection, it’s back to the restaurant. Ibrahim returns with the luggage.

Next question: can we eat here?

Of course you can but be quick, kitchen will close in a few minutes. Round 9pm, we’re having a fine Ivorian chicken and rice dish, called “poulet kédjénou”.

Le Makoré, Abidjan Airport (photo: Martin Waalboer)

Ibrahim’s going home, his working day is done. We’re having a drink and head for bed. Thank you Abidjan Airport.

Abidjan Airport overnight facility (photo Martin Waalboer)

Ibrahim’s back the next day to help us in our exchanges with the Air Mali manager, whose idea of service it is to cancel a flight, tell no-one about it and then insist that passengers who really need to be home on the day they planned to be…buy another ticket with another airline. ‘You will be reimbursed after arrival’.

Pull the other one, mate.

It takes two hours of virtually incessant calls on Ibrahim’s cell phone (“Can you not pay for a new ticket?” No. “It’s very very difficult.” You screw up, you are duty-bound to get us on another flight. “I’m working on it.” Fine, let me know when you’re ready. “Can you come to the Kenya Airways check-in immediately?” We’re on our way). But early afternoon we’re on board KQ and after an eventless flight and an interesting landing (a bump and a slight swagger across the runway) we’re in Dakar, seven hours before schedule and ready for work. Ibrahim’s mighty pleased when we call him from Dakar. Mission accomplished.

As far as we’re concerned, Air Mali can cancel its flights any day. And just in case you’d miss it: you can never repeat enough that there definitely is room for this advert: “wanted – efficient, reliable, low-cost, no-frills carrier for West Africa. Profits guaranteed.”

(Back soon with more on Liberia, music (as promised) and a temporary goodbye…)