Many travelers have heard horror stories about the experience of Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos Nigeria. Here is my story, I don’t think it was necessarily a horror, but I’ll let you decide. Others have alleged some major issues when flying through Lagos, including bribes from immigration officers and baggage not being transferred between flights. I didn’t encounter either of these, but here are a few examples of some horror stories others have reported.
When I was traveling as a child in the 1980s, besides lots of 727s and DC9s, I remember many airports with signs that warned about poor security measures at Murtala Muhammed Airport. I never imagined I would transit this airport willingly. To get to my destination in Accra, there are other options that are likely easier. Delta has a few non stops each week from JFK, and there are multiple flights from European hubs. Instead, I decided to sacrifice the convenience a direct flight for a little comfort as well as maximizing United miles. The fact that I was able to upgrade all legs at booking with a Global Premier Upgrade sealed the decision. This of course meant, that I would have to transit in Lagos.
My United flight from Houston on the Dreamliner was late, so my connection had become very tight, but I still had a little bit of time before its scheduled departure, and the inbound aircraft still hadn’t arrived. I was on a separate ticket on Nigerian carrier Arik Air to Accra. I contacted the airline before my flight asking for transit assistance, and I also notified my contact that my inbound flight was delayed. Unfortunately, I don’t think this message got through to the staff in Lagos. Once I got off the plane, I started asking where to transit. I kept getting pointed/directed to immigration. I was of course not entering Nigeria (and don’t have a visa since I was only transiting). I would have liked to crossed over to the departure gate for my Accra flight, but a security guard prevented me from doing so. Plus, I didn’t have my boarding pass. Arik does have online check in, but seemingly only for domestic flights.
Ticket counters in the international terminal in Lagos
While waiting, I noticed that the Arik flight had arrived, so I knew time was getting very tight. I finally met with a Nigerian immigration agent, who escorted me and 2 other transit passengers to the ticket counters. Unfortunately, once I finally got to the Arik ticket counter, the monitor said final call, but I told it was too late to check in and final paperwork had already been sent to the gate. I was stuck. The agent told me, “if United informed us, we could have printed your boarding pass”. Argh…
So close, yet so far.
So apparently I was stranded, at least until I could get on the next flight, which meant a new ticket. I went with the other transit passengers to check in for their onward flight. After we cleared security to go to the transit waiting area, I got to see the plane that I was ticketed on to Accra. Sadly,I watched it pull away. There were a few more flights to Accra, and the next one was a few hours later. Africa World Airways is a new Ghanaian carrier, and their flight was about 4 hours later, departing at 9:15pm. After waiting for a while in a well air-conditioned room with other passengers in transit, I went to the ticket office, several floors above the ticketing area. Their credit card machine didn’t work (a common theme on this trip), so I had to go back downstairs to get some cash.
I got some unplanned Nigerian currency on this trip, but the remainder is organized
The walk-up ticket ended up costing about US $160. Not too bad, I suppose. Ultimately United compensated me for this amount via a travel credit. Not really what I was hoping for, but its better than nothing. It was a bit strange counting off 26 bills to pay for an airline ticket.
purchase receipt for my new ticket
Once I had my new ticket, the waiting game had begun. I couldn’t get a wifi connection in the transit room. I didn’t bother buying a sim card since I knew I wasn’t going to be in Nigeria for long. Some of the other passengers were leaving to go get food, etc. Once we were a few hours before departure, I was escorted back to the ticketing area to check in for my flight. After clearing security again, the immigration agent bid me farewell, and I went to find some food, and finally wifi before heading to my gate. I noticed a free wifi sign at a small restaurant, so I went there.
Lagos airport food
The food was nothing special, but once connected the wifi worked well. I could finally get online and reach out to my friends in Accra. There were more interesting food options available, but the wifi won out here. After some fries and a couple of beers, I headed to my gate. Despite having credit card machines at the restaurant I had to pay cash. The small amount of remaining Naira was not enough to pay for the inflated prices, but they accepted US$, at not too terrible of a exchange rate.
Despite the fact that the flight was only on a E-145, there was a wait to get through security at the gate. The checks were thorough. Baggage was examined, and passengers could not enter the boarding area without a completed yellow fever card and a valid visa for entry into Ghana. This is common when traveling in sub-Saharan Africa, where yellow fever is endemic, and flights into Ghana are known for being strict about it.
my yellow fever card was checked before boarding
Once cleared, there was a small waiting area before boarding was called. It was only a few minutes, and we headed out to the tarmac to board our flight.
Waiting to board our flight to Accra
ground boarding our E-145
There were only 10 passengers, and 2 flight attendants, although it seemed as if it may have been a trainer and a trainee, or possibly just due to the light load, only one FA worked the cabin. I was surprised at all the Chinese writing on the plane, signage was both English and Chinese. I later discovered that Africa World Airlines is owned by Hainan Airlines and the planes were originally operated by Tianjin Airlines.
Somewhat surprisingly, there was a meal service on the 1 hour flight. Nothing exciting, but pretty nice, since I’m easily impressed and used to US domestic flights where any food served costs additional money.
decent snack on a short flight
The seats each had a disposable head cover, and more interesting was the embroidery, clearly from its previous life in China. I later discovered that this plane was actually manufactured in China under a joint agreement between Embraer and Harbin.
Unique seat cover, originally designed for Grand China Air (now Tianjin Airlines).
Soon we were preparing to land in Accra. Thanks to a time change, it was just after 9:00pm when we landed. After some hassling by touts, I was able to get some cash, a local sim card, and a taxi to the hotel where I would finally meet up with friends for the wedding.
Regarding my experience in Lagos; some additional thoughts. There are minimal procedures in place for transit passengers. They must remain in contact with immigration officials, although people are allowed to leave and move around the departure area to some extent. There is no visa required for transit. I’ll have more discussion of this transit experience on my return trip, since I had an even longer layover in Lagos. This was planned (and dreaded) due to minimal flights between Accra and Lagos. I had to either take a morning flight or cut it too close for comfort in before my onward flight to Houston. This airport won’t easily be confused with Changi, but its really not scary at all. The only memorable bribe request was from an attendant outside the bathroom who attempted to help me with the automatic hand dryer after I already started using it.
Next will be discusion of my brief stay in Accra.
Other posts about my trip to Africa:
A Trip of Firsts
Initial thoughts on my trip to Ghana
United 787 Dreamliner BusinessFirst from Houston to Lagos
An extended layover in Lagos Nigeria and a flight on Africa World Airways (this post)
Cash only in Accra, Ghana, and Africa in general
The drive from Accra to Cape Coast with a van full of wedding guests
A stay at the Ko-Sa Beach Resort, Cape Coast, Ghana
Exploring history of the slave trade in Cape Coast
Travel to Kakum National Park and being the only obruni on the bus to Accra
A flight on Arik Air and a longer layover at Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos
United 787 Dreamliner Business First from Lagos to Houston