Morocco Coronavirus: Last Seat Out to France

20 03 2020
Air France Boarding Pass

Last seat to France out of Morocco

I just returned from a wonderful trip to Morocco. I managed to land in Portland, Oregon, 15 March about 10:15 a.m. Normally, I would begin blog posts about a trip abroad starting from the beginning. But this time, due to unprecedented times, and because of the immediate international travel lock-down sweeping the globe, I am writing about my miraculous exit from Morocco just as the country shut down travel to France.

I was on an Intrepid Travel “Best of Morocco” tour, which began on 1 March 2020. I flew into Casablanca. The trip ended in Marrakesh. For economies of money and time, I decided to purchase a round trip from Portland, Oregon to Casablanca instead of two one way flights. My flight home was scheduled to depart Casablanca March 16, transit through Paris on the way back to the USA.

The Coronavirus pandemic began sweeping around the globe before I left home, but there were not many international travel restrictions at that time. I met my tour group, composed of Americans, English and Australians, and we explored Morocco’s coasts, cities, deserts, kasbahs, medinas and ruins together. As we enjoyed ourselves the virus was spreading and governments were working overtime to enact plans to contain it. These plans included restricting travel. Airlines would be affected.

We were on the coast, in Essaouira, when I first got an idea that things were doing downhill. First, my original Air France flight from Paris to Seattle was re-routed to Atlanta due to “operational constraints.” I did nothing. The USA had temporarily banned Europeans from traveling to the USA. US citizens could come home. Then, on the way to Marrakesh, on March 13, Air France sent an e-mail that my Paris-Atlanta flight was “canceled due to operational constraints.” With this, I began to worry. Still, I figured I could re-book another flight to the USA – I had time. Maybe I could book a flight around the European Union or a non stop from Morocco to the USA.

It is nothing short of a miracle that I am here right now and I will tell you why. Well, it is a combination of my own intuition, French language, travel experience, flexibility, and tenacity, with a good dose of luck that got me home.

I had a good data connection on the bus, and I tried to use the links on the e-mail to see or change my flight. None of them worked. At the hotel in Marrakesh, before the dinner, I tried the same, no luck. Some intuition told me that I must continue to try to reach Air France or Delta (Air France’s partner) to get a lock on a flight from Paris to USA – that became my #1 priority, instead of going to dinner or doing my tour of Marrakesh the following day. Something told me I needed to lock that flight down.

That evening, I tried every known method of contacting Air France or Delta Airlines. I tried both Delta and Air France Websites via my phone, and they were locked up. I tried Air France online chat, which, once I logged in, just sat there, nobody answering. I tried Delta telephone customer service which said it had a 6-hour wait. I called Air France telephone customer service and waited 90 minutes before it hung up. E-mails went without response as did texts. The Apps for these airlines did not work. It felt like I was chasing my tail.

So I resolved that I MUST speak face to face with an Air France agent, so the following morning, after breakfast, I took a taxi to the airport. I arrived about 9:30 a.m.  NOBODY knew what was about to happen in Morocco.

What occurred next was 100% unexpected and a miracle which in a way never could have happened unless I took action. I arrived at the airport, and the Air France line was long – normal because there was a flight going out. I learned Air France did not have an office in the airport nor in Marrakesh. The only way to speak face to face was to wait in the line patiently. What happened next was simply incredible.

I reached the Air France agent at about 10:40 a.m. I told him that I was trying to change flights for two days coming up due to a canceled flight. He looked at my reservation and his face became a bit panicked and contorted, not sure what to do to help me. That is when he told me that the government of Morocco had banned all flights to France as of 12:00 p.m. THAT DAY! He told me to go back to my hotel, get luggage, and return immediately, so that I could get on a waiting list on this flight.

So, with that information, I knew my “Best of Morocco” trip was over. I ran outside the airport and bargained with taxi drivers for a round trip taxi ride including waiting at the Les Trois Palmiers Hotel for me to throw my luggage together! I even got the driver to understand that this was an emergency and he kicked out existing passengers in his car so he could get my drive done quickly. Once in the car this became a scene worthy of Hollywood, with the taxi passing other cars, swerving in and out to get my round trip done. Back at the hotel I was an emotional mess, remembering how much fun the trip was and realizing I was alone and couldn’t say goodbye to people I met. I rifled through my money to get a tip to our guide Mohamed. I left a note for my roommate Michael to deliver it. With that done, I ran out to the taxi.

More miracles to come. At the airport I waved to my agent and he put me past the line to get me in standby. There were probably 20 of us on standby. The flight was due to leave about 12:30 and gates closed at 12:15 or so. Somewhere during this time I saw tour mates Penny, Craig and Michael who all had decided, like me, to drop everything and go home. Royal Air Maroc, the next counter to Air France, told them that “there was nothing it could do” to help them. After a few minutes, another agent announced (in French of course) that NO STANDBY SEATS WILL GO. He said, in French, that he didn’t know what to do and that the computer showed next flights are March 28. That resulted in 100% pandemonium amongst the French citizens trying to go home. There was crying, there was yelling, there was anger, there was disbelief.

Keep in mind that nobody in Morocco outside the airport was aware of this 12:00 p.m. shut down. I could only imagine the tourists enjoying their day unaware!

I decided to stick to my plan, and not leave that counter. I could still succeed if I could get a flight plan around the European Union back to the USA. When the crowd paused a little, I kindly spoke to the agent about my situation, and he listened. Whilst this was going on, for some completely unexplained reason, the Royal Air Maroc agent one meter away also heard my situation, and said to me, “May I please see your itinerary?” And then a MIRACLE happened. She produced a boarding pass! She quickly grabbed my luggage, tagged it and said RUN to the gate. And so I did. With very sweaty palms got through passport control in a rush.

Luck stuck with me because it was already 12:16. My flight was delayed! Once through passport control and running to the A5 gate, I saw my original Air France agent standing there, with no other passengers, looking at me like he was hallucinating, but I was there! I had a boarding pass. He cheered and ushered me onto the plane, which I thought was an Air Maroc flight. But it was that Air France flight! The passengers and crew cheered me as I got the very last flight! THE very very LAST seat!

Wheels up!

Doors closed, wheels up and I was gone. The entire plane cheered. And I was only trying to get a flight changed for March 16!

I had a one-segment boarding pass, so my luggage was checked to Charles de Gaulle Paris and no further. Once in the airport I visited the Air France customer service desk. The agent was able to get me on a flight to Los Angeles, departing within the hour. I took it. There was no time to get my bag, or go back and forth through passport control and security. So the agent put an electronic tag on it in the baggage software system. And I was off.

Well deserved!

With my connection in the USA, I was home at just after 10 a.m.

I filed a lost baggage claim with the airline, and it followed me the next day.

All my luggage arrived the next morning in perfect shape!

Here I am at home. The world going crazy. Events are happening so fast and not predictable. God Speed to travelers everywhere during this crisis!




5 responses

25 03 2020

This is bringing up complex internal emotions for me as we had a similar escape story however news had well and truly hit *everyone* by the time we got out so mass panic was tenfold! So relieved to be home.

26 03 2020
Rod C. Richards

I know! I was so fortunate to fly out just as the lockdown started!

23 03 2020

WOW! Reads like a chapter in a thriller novel! Escape from Morocco!

26 03 2020
Rod C. Richards

Yes, it was exactly like that. Though I was escaping the global travel lock down more than escaping Morocco…I’d rather have stayed longer!

21 04 2020
Rod C. Richards

Yes, it was an escape, unfortunately. I didn’t want to feel that way, because the trip was otherwise great. I kept reminding myself the travel situation globally was falling like dominoes. So I don’t really blame Morocco. Although it still seems odd that they were banning outbound travel.

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