Brendan and I left from DEN Airport early Tuesday, flying to Casablanca, Morocco mid-day on Wednesday after a 28 hour journey with 3 flights, 3 carriers and 3 continents. We had booked our 14 day Morocco and Portugal stopover on July 1, more than 90 days in advance. The only hitch we had came about a week prior to our trip, when TAP Air Portugal cancelled our flight from Lisbon to Casablanca on the outbound, and rebooked us on an illogical itinerary departing from Lisbon prior to arriving to Lisbon. I had to call and, ultimately, there was nothing they could do to preserve the semblance of our original itinerary – so they removed the segment of LIS to CMN so that the itinerary wouldn’t be canceled for no-show, and asked us to submit a complaint/refund request for the new tickets we were forced to purchase on Royal Air Maroc from LIS-CMN. This cost us $260 out of pocket. We submitted the complaint to TAP a few days later, but the verdict is still out on whether they will reimburse us (Update: they did eventually reimburse us, but it took 5 months). It was luckily the only real issue on our outbound journey flying to Casablanca.
Tuesday morning started with a United flight 691 to EWR at 0755, after a Lyft ride to the airport at 5AM. Unfortunately the flight was about an hour delayed, but we had a 5 hour layover in Newark until our next flight, so we were fine. This is, of course, the chief downside of self-connecting – lower fares are easily found stringing multiple bookings together on separate airlines, but is it worth the hassle of delayed flight or lost luggage derailing your entire journey? For us, the answer was yes. We built in enough time for our connections and dealing with any unforeseen problems that the $$$ savings was worth it. But it still was a hassle.
At least United gave everyone free DirectTV for the hassle of the delay.
In Newark, we picked up our bags easily and re-cleared security with about 3 hours to kill – so we headed to the Lufthansa lounge, which we were able to access with my United Premier Platinum membership. It was a puzzle trying to figure where and when I could use my United lounge benefits. It turns out, I could not use it Denver, because I could only use it on international segments, and therefore was able to use it in Newark, even though our next flight was not on United. We were similarly not able to use the lounge in LIS before our Royal Air Maroc flight because there was no attached United flight on either the departure or arrival airport. At least we learned a lot about my United benefits while flying to Casablanca.
The best part of our layover actually was when we were just outside our gate about to board. Brendan as usual was fidgety. He was tap, tap, tapping his leg in his usual way, when his neighbor turned to him and asked him politely to stop it. Apparently he was shaking the entire bench! He won’t be living this one down anytime soon.
The TAP Air Portugal flight 202 at 625PM from EWR to Lisbon was smooth – we had an aisle and a middle in a 2-4-2 configuration with an empty seat next to me in the middle.
It was a 6 hour flight and we attempted about 4 hours of sleep, but slept very badly in a nearly fully-upright position. Additionally, the Portuguese lady on the aisle near me decided to take her shoes off and lay her feet out on the empty middle seat – they stank so much I couldn’t stay asleep. It was seriously one of the rudest things I’ve experience on a flight. At least TAP booked us seats together, despite not paying for assigned seats.
They served us two meals on TAP – one hot dinner and one cold breakfast. They were both bland as hell, but at least we had already filled up on a pretty decent Lufthansa Lounge array of food.
In Lisbon, we arrived at 6AM but had to wait for several hours until 1030AM when the Royal Air Maroc check-in counters opened. Waiting to get our bag and going through immigration killed about an hour, and we did encounter the nicest immigration officer ever (he recommended we just go to the connecting flights area without clearing immigration, until we explained that we were self-connecting and had to get our bag first and then re-check it with Royal Air Maroc). We had some nice Portuguese coffee in the LIS airport prior to checking our bag, but basically were dead to the world from thereon out.
Once the ticketing desk opened and we dropped our bag, we made it through security in a matter of minutes and decided to just get to the gate after immigration and in to the boarding area. This part was excruciating. Getting on to the flight was a huge production, since we had to take a bus to the plane, were the last ones out of the bus, and then had to lug our bags up the stairs. Finally, we were on the plane and promptly passed out once we sat down. We were glad to be flying to Casablanca after a long time in transit.
Flying to Casablanca on Royal Air Maroc flight 983 from LIS at 1135AM was smooth but bizarre. We were greeted on the plane to Moroccan music, seemingly adolescent male flight attendants, and the insistence that we put our backpacks in the overhead compartment instead of under the seat in front of us since we were seated in an exit row. We were served a cold breakfast of a stale roll with a hunk of cheese in between, a yogurt (which was quite good), and a chocolate chip muffin. We had about 10 minutes to eat before they came back again to pick up our trash, given how short tflying to Casablance actually was. We were on the ground around 1230PM, giving us ample time to clear immigration (no visa was required but we did have to fill out some forms, which were not given to us on the plane) and collect our bag.
The memories came flooding back from my time in Cairo around how inefficient and pointless procedural things were in North Africa, despite the people being lovely and friendly. For example, we passed a couple of guards that were supposed to be checking our passports after immigration, but they were in a heated debate and ignored us walking by, only to stop us a few minutes later. Similarly, we had to scan all of our bags again and walk through some metal detectors, but nobody really was paying any attention. We also encountered a lot of ineptitude and rudeness from fellow passengers, jockeying for position to put their bags on the security check belt as soon as possible and cutting between Brendan and me.
After flying to Casablanca, the rest was smooth sailing. We got money from an ATM at the CMN airport and found our Gate1 Travel representative, Abdallah, waiting for us just outside holding a sign with our names on it. We were ushered in to a comfortable van to drive us the 90 minutes from Casablanca to Rabat, where we would officially start our Moroccan adventure. We tried to stay awake on the drive but could not help nodding off, despite our excitement for seeing the countryside. We checked in to our hotel, Le Diwan Rabat (Sofitel), briefly met our tour guide M’hamed Oubahnini, sorted out the smoking room situation (had to change rooms to a non-smoking room on a different floor even though of course all we wanted to do was sleep), and then finally were rewarded with a 3 hour nap until our mandatory tour meeting at 630PM in the hotel conference center.
The orientation was a nice overview of the next 12 days, and we got to meet our fellow travelers on our tour bus as well (37 people in total). Most were in their 60s, but there were several our age or in their 40s, and several single travelers as well – it turned out to be a pretty good group!
Flying to Casablanca was definitely a challenge, but the trip was off to a successful start and we hoped the effort would be worth it. While we had never done a formal tour in a large group (outside of our recent Vancouver trip), we had high hopes. The price was right and the idea was to see as much as possible while making our lives as easy as possible. We hoped we were right!