Friday, November 30, 2012

Departing Accra Airport and arriving at JFK

I have mentioned before that I am a researcher, but there are some times that research can only help so much, such as when it is a topic that no one else has written about. So, I have written this particular blog post for people who need to fly internationally out of the Accra airport, as well as including information about what to expect at the JFK airport when you arrive from that flight.

Getting to the airport was easy. When we arrived (almost 10 hours early because we had a late flight, and a relatively early check out time) we hoped to check our bags, and then go to the relatively close Accra Mall for a large chunk of that time. Most international airports I have been in, this is no problem. You find your airline, you wait in their line, check your bag.

The first thing we noticed in the departure area is that there was no Delta area. At first glance, there were no airlines listed, so we thought you could just check in anywhere. Not so, its just that Delta only sets up their area about 5 and a half hours before departure. It isn't a big airport, so whoever has flights leaving relatively near that time, that is when they set up their area.

Because of how early we were, we had the fun afternoon of having our luggage with us at the mall. It mostly meant my husband was standing around with the luggage while I shopped in the stores there.

Anyways, when we arrived back at the airport at 5:30 (an hour after check in started), there was a whole Delta area set off by lines with the Delta logo on them. We find our area, and then are handed a paper to fill out. Then our luggage is inspected, as are our passports, and the document we had to fill out. We also had to make luggage tags for our suitcases. We get our boarding passes, and are told don't enter your gate until 6:30, but your gate closes at 8:00 (for a 10:10 flight).

Interesting... we weren't really sure what that meant, or where we could go or not, but figured that we would keep going until someone told us to wait there.

From entering the international departure area and checking in, we went left, and followed the signs to immigration (even though we were not really sure if that is where we should be going).

There are a few stores and restaurants, but not much. The stores sell similar items but more expensive than what you can buy on Accra streets, and we didn't try the restaurants, so I can't report on those. 

We make it to the immigration area. There are documents, just like the ones we had to fill out when we got off the plane that we are supposed to fill out again. (Moral of the story, have a pen, and be ready to use it).

This goes into a line to have your passport and this immigration paper checked. They should also check your boarding pass, and stamp it. This is important to note because my husband's worker did it correctly, mine didn't. She never asked to see my boarding pass, so I never showed it, and I am sure the lack of a stamp would have been a problem at some point! After talking to him, I went back and had her stamp it.

Then you get to the "typical" security check of our modern airports- take off shoes, jackets etc. have your stuff scanned. You are patted down (not always a part of the process, but was here), and scanned.

Now you are almost to the gates section. There is a duty free shop, and the typical bathrooms/ giftshops in this area.USE THEM NOW, as mentioned below, you can't use them later.

We get to our gate, very pleased with ourselves and start to wait. (So I never did find out where the 6:30 stop was supposed to be). Now, the waiting area had rows of chairs, but you could see that the next step was into a long room, with windows (why we could see this section) which is where they would take you next.

At I think 7:30 or so, they had us line up to go into this room. I figured it was one more passport/boarding pass check. Not so. It is actually another security screening, more intense than the other, and much more thorough. They opened every carry on (and that included people with the small suitcases as their carry-ons) and searched them completely. They asked questions about any items that looked suspicious. They did another full pat down and shoes were requested to be taken off for this further inspection before proceeding.

People with tightly packed suitcases were bummed, as their contents were totally rearranged, and didn't fit very well afterwards (which really is unfair that the next step for those people was to prove their carry-on fit in the carry-on space). Word to the wise, be ready to answer questions about any item in your carry-on, and don't pack in a way that would make it hard to close after being looked through.

Now we are in the room I saw when we were waiting by our gate. It is a nice enough room, but there are no bathrooms in it, no stores, and no food. We did fine, but remember, they start to close this room 2 hours before the flight leaves. The rule at home to arrive 2 hours before a flight will not cut it here. If you are hungry now or need to go to the bathroom, I honestly don't know what they would tell you, it was a slow and intense checking process to get to this step.

Depending on where you were on the line to get into this room, you will be waiting between 1-2 hours in there before the next step (boarding for us was 40 minutes before the flight).

Okay, so boarding was more or less normal- you had to ride a shuttle to the plane, and then go up the stairs to actually enter the plane, but not too bad. You made it though the Accra departures!

We flew into JFK. I wished that I had known what to expect there too, even knowing it might be somewhat different for the next person. Biggest thing is it takes crazy long to get to your gate- we had a 2 hour and 20 minute layover, and we needed almost all of it. Like, we had time to buy a coffee, sit down with it, and then they started boarding our flight. Second thing is to go to the bathroom on the plane, I hated those long minutes waiting in lines even though I had to go, but didn't have an opportunity. 

They pass out customs cards to fill out on the plane, and we knew that was the first stop off the plane. This moved incredibly slow for us, mostly because it was an early flight. Once you get to an official, they check your passport, your customs card (one per family) and ask you questions about your trip. I think it took us 30-45 minutes just to get through this step (there is a bathroom in this area, but we didn't use it, because we didn't want the line to get any longer while we did that).

After customs, we had to get our bags from baggage claim, EVEN THOUGH we had a connecting flight. One was on a terminal different than the one on the screen, and the other was off of the terminal sitting next to the baggage spinner.

We think, no problem, next step. Nope. There is a line, again, now to have your passport and boarding pass checked again. Once we got past that, we got to wait in a line to check our baggage. After checking your bags, there was finally a good bathroom that we could use.

A lady there handed us a slip of paper with even more confusing directions than the signs (go up, go past this point, go down?). After trying to follow those directions, we opted for the airport tram instead of the shuttle we were supposed to go to.

We, personally, were going from terminal 4 to terminal 2/3. So we took the tram, got off at the proper stop, and then had to figure out what was happening next.

We had to cross over to the terminal from where the tram was. It isn't far, and you can see it out the window, but yes, the right thing to do was to walk outside to the next terminal. (Not fun, dressed for 90 decree Accra weather walking even a little bit in 30 degree New York weather.)

Good, we made it to the terminal. We had very little trouble following the signs here, only to see... a security line. You know, the one where you take off your shoes, they scan you, etc. The line moves slowly too, there was at first only one line, but they eventually opened a second.

Once we passed this, yes, we made it to our gate.  I hope that knowing our long process helps you if you happen to be traveling this way in the future.

Biggest timing things:
-Accra departure, arrive 4 hours early to go through all their steps
-JFK connecting flight, have a significant layover, short ones would be tough

1 comment:

  1. Ack! Didn't AAI send you any sort of travel packet? I think the one they have is outdated but there should have been a write up about the process of the Accra airport and such. Sorry you had to go through that with no guidence!

    One good thing is that they final pat-down you went through (where they opened up the carry-ons) is not normal. That must have been a pop up security thing. And, if you need to go out of the final gate area to go to the bathroom, you can. They will let you right back in. No worries there! =-) I always get to the airport around 5 hours early because it is seriously hectic! Sometimes you will get through it and sit around for 3 hours; other times you'll take every bit of it just getting to the gate. Oh--the restaurant at the top of the escalator is a good place for a final meal if you have the time. =-)