You’ve bought your ticket from Kinshasa to Lubumbashi, Mbuji-Mayi or Goma with CAA or Congo Airways.
Congratulations! You have now signed up for a one of kind experience in the world!
Known for extremely unsafe practices and a horrible safety track record, DRC airlines are notoriously known for accidents not to mention frustrating processes and red tape at the airports.
Here is a guide or recap of what to expect on your local flight and the various pitfalls that novices fall into.
First is the issue of leaving to the airport. What time should you go?
If it’s a local flight, chances are that it won’t take off on time. You may even get traffic on the way there. Try to book a Sunday morning flight, you’ll definitely reach the place in no time! 🙂
So now that you know when to leave, once you’re there, get ready to start paying for all sorts of things. Maybe arrange for what they call a “protocol” (a travel agency officer or even government employee (DGM) that handles the whole check-in experience) if you want to minimise talking and arguing with 10 or 20 people. Hopefully, you can afford the service, which should range between 10 and 50 usd. They check you in and know all the officials that will likely haggle and insist on “café” (a bribe some say, others will say it’s just giving them a helping hand of 1 or 2 dollars).
Did you get a protocol? No? Ok then. Let’s begin.
Parking or just driving in to be dropped off? It doesn’t matter. In Lubumbashi, you pay 12$ right off the bat at the entrance. Don’t bother arguing. That’s the price and you get a receipt.
In Kinshasa, you’re in for 5 usd for 1 hour, whether it’s 30 seconds or 59 minutes.
Ok you’re through! Now starts the fun bit.
Expect 1 or 5 people wanting to “help” you carry your bags. Fight them off or begrudgingly accept their help. Get to the main door. The security guard asks for a “cafe”. Say no or later or next time, try to smile even if it already irritates you.
Now, either “check in” or pay for your “Go Pass”. It’s a 15$ tax they collect (Régie des Voies Aériennes, RVA, a ministry or government entity in charge of aviation). Don’t complain, it’s 55$ if it’s an international flight where 5$ is a « statistical » tax. It’s better to do it after checking in.
Don’t ask where the money goes, who knows.
The check-in is very confusing. You get into a queue, where you are constantly cut off, people talking loudly to each other, and you’re rudely told to put your bags one by one to be opened and checked. You can pay them off to not open your bags but it’s not worth it if you’re there and you didn’t want a protocol. You might as well suffer the whole way through.
So they found some art you bought at a local market, uh oh. Do you have the ministry of culture certificate to say you are authorised to remove this wonderful cultural heritage piece of the Congo overseas? No? There is a fine to pay, sorry. How much? Maybe 100$? Maybe 1$? How good are you at convincing them that it’s not « that » valuable?
Ok, now that you gave up on the art piece and left it with the customs officials, you can really go check-in. Go sit in another queue, wait your turn, patiently see people cut through or are « business class ». Finally, you see the airline agent, you give him or her your documents. Uh oh, the system is down, she/he is manually writing the boarding passes and baggage tags. Let’s wait a little longer.
Now you finished checking in. You have your pass, you go to immigration, because yes, for internal flights, you need to go through immigration! Maybe you don’t have a valid visa now that you’re in the country. Immigration is also waiting for you at arrival. Do you have an « Ordre de Mission »? Because everyone must know who sent you and why you’re here, you foreigner!
Immigration asked for a small coffee too, you refuse again for the 100th time. Now it’s security’s turn.
“Small coffee sir?” Sorry I don’t have. Get checked and cabin bags opened or not depending on your answer to the coffee.
Go wait in the waiting room or keep going. There’s another cabin bag search by the airline that is a big more thorough. FYI, no airport other than Kinshasa has an X-ray machine.
You’re finally walking to the plane. Another line up. They check that you paid the “Go-pass” tax. Give them the yellow carbon copy.
And now, you’re on your way to your seat. Alleluia. You can now rest and hopefully find a spot to put your bags and your neighbours are conscientious and polite!
Now, relax, as you will need some more energy and patience when you land and the whole process starts again!
If you really want to experience a little less pain during a trip, get a protocol 🙂