Check-In Procedures for International Departure from A Nigerian Airport
Getting through an international airport in Nigeria can be a "challenging" experience. Be prepared...!
Get to the airport early. Check-in starts 4 to 5 hours before departure. Seriously consider getting to the airport right at check-in time if not before. Bring a good book or whatever you need to stay entertained. The time you invest in being early will very likely pay off in helping you to stay patient and avoid stress.
Note well...It may seem like everyone in the check-in process moves as slowly as possible and even speaks very softly...until you stoke someone's ire. Try your best not to attract undue attention, follow ALL rules, do not attempt to debate unless absolutely necessary, and by all means take the entire process VERY seriously!
Your objective is to make it to the waiting area as quickly and sanely as possible. Once there, you can START to relax, NOT before.
If you see someone paying "honorariums" to airport staff, security, customs, etc...remain calm. Do not feel pressure to participate. These days, bribery is not as overt in Nigerian airports as it used to be. Thus any staff who makes an attempt will typically try to be discreet about it and will give up quickly if you are not compliant...AND you have not provided any quasi-legitimate excuse for them to hold you up.
Another welcome advance in the Nigerian airport experience is that passengers are generally well-behaved these days. Lines are relatively orderly with a distinct process. There is no longer a need to brace yourself for pushing and shoving or developing a "me-first", survival-of-the-fittest attitude. If you are unfortunate to experience any regression to the old ways, again, stay PATIENT. Your sanity will thank you for it.
The following checklist is based on my experience at the Port Harcourt International Airport in the spring of 2014. (The arrival area was under construction at the time).
- Make sure you have a savvy driver taking you to the airport. A police stop on the road/highway on the way to the airport could become the misery of a missed flight if an angry/dissatisfied officer/soldier decides to detain you for "non-compliance" or saying the wrong thing the wrong way about your purpose and what you are carrying. These days, paying money at such stops is no longer a matter of necessity, and a savvy driver should be able to talk your way through the experience with minimal hassle. If you find yourself forced to provide an "honorarium" for services rendered, do so without indignation or any further protest. The goal at that point is to just get on your way.
- Find your way to your airline's check-in line. The proper locationmay not be immediately obvious. Try to ask fellow passengers for help rather than staff who might want to charge fees for their services.
- Agent checks your passport.
- Another agent conducts a search of all bags getting checked-in.
- Customs conducts a bag search. Incredibly, on two of my trips, the agents bitterly argued about procedures. The last time it was over the number of people required at the station before bag searches could be done. If this happens to you, do NOT intervene, do NOT interject, and by all means be PATIENT.
- Check-in: the most "normal" part of the process. Electronic ticketing even works fine. There is no need these days to drive to a hotel or other location to pay someone to confirm your flight. A simple call or internet confirmation is all you need now.
- Find your way to the security line. The agents are not consistently helpful in directing you to the right place. Stay vigilant. On my last trip, I was one of the first to arrive, so I could not simply look for the crowd...
- While standing in the security line, an agent will approach you to review your passport review and to take your departure card(fill it out while in the security line).
- Go to another counter for another passport review. There was a time when you had to watch your passport like a hawk. Vigilance is still a good idea, but the risk/reward for stealing a passport is not as good as it used to be...even for holding the passport for ransom:
- Your passport is passed to another agent to your right.
- After some amount of time, you will get directed to antoher counter.
- Your passport gets passed to your right for another review. (On my last trip, I could not tell at all what was being done with my passport during this part of the process.)
- Hand over your currency declaration (again, fill this out while in the security line).
- Go through the metal detector.
- Security hand checks the same bags that just went through an electronic screening.
- Two customs agents search the same bags that security just hand checked. One may ask a random question about something in your bag. By all means, tell the truth and do NOT get indignant about anything...unless you intend to invite even more scrutiny and have funds to pay your way out of your mess.
- An airline agent asks for your boarding pass and checks your name off on a sheet that maps all the seats on the plane.
- Pay close attention to boarding procedures. You may not necessarily notice that your flight is boarding. Definitely follow the crowds and ask fellow passengers for info.
- Line up and have your boarding pass checked.
- Airline secutiry hand checks your carry-on bags. At this point, you have little to worry about people trying to extract "fees" or"honorariums" for their services.
- Airline secutiry gives you a pat down. Yes, I know you just went through airport security, but the airlines simply do not trust it...even with the number of people who are lined up to operate the security apparatus.
- Get on a bus that drives you to the plane.
- At the plane, an airline staffer scans your boarding pass one more time.
- Before take-off, the cabin will get sprayed with an insecticide. You will be reassured by the airline that the spray is perfectly safe for humans and is approved by some international standards body. You can get indignant, but it will do you no good.
- Depending on the country for your first layover after Nigeria, you should expect to get stopped by that country's immigration services. They will check your passport and look for the proper VISAs and documentation. Incredibly, despite all the safeguards up to this point, STILL some people are able to bribe their way onto a plane out of Nigeria without proper documentation. I did not witness any detentions on my last trip. On one trip through Germany, I saw immigration detain several Nigerians, some of whom were pleading for clemency.
ENJOY! By this time you have earned a good rest and a relaxing trip to your final destination.
(Last updates: April 19, 2015)