An amusing (after the fact) sort of airport detention story

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Jul 21, 2019
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#1
Not looking for help, but thought that the community would be interested in a recent travel nightmare of mine.

Awhile ago I needed to go to South Africa for business, and in order to get an upgrade to business class for as long as possible (I'm a 1K United flier), I had to fly on United to Lagos from San Francisco, and then change planes to South African Airways to Johannesburg.

When I stepped off the plane in Lagos, I was greeted by an army officer demanding to see my "vaccination certificate". I told him I didn't need one, and was just here to change planes. He replied, "You're in Nigeria now". I stood there speechless as other passengers went past me, some waving pieces of paper at him and some just going on. After a minute or so, he said, "Well, that will be a $20 fine." I paid the fine and went on. (Parenthetically, it turns out that visitors entering Nigeria from countries where yellow fever is endemic do need to show proof of vaccination, but no one else. And, in a bit of irony, I *had* been vaccinated for yellow fever (which provides lifetime protection) years ago.)

I paid the “fine” and proceeded to the immigration desk. After filling out the landing card, I was told to “go stand over there.” An officer then proceeded to take my passport from me, as well as the passports from about a dozen other Americans. We all stood there for about 45 minutes. During that time, I called the after-hours number of my corporate travel agency and was told that this was common practice for airports without a sterile way to go from one gate to another.

When we had all been collected, the officer took us up a flight of stairs and into the ticket lobby, where he told us to wait (“you’ve got plenty of time”, he said). After another 45 minutes or so, he came back and said, “OK, let’s go but there may be some trouble getting your boarding passes”. We told him that we already had our boarding passes. He frowned, and took us to the South African Airways counter where he proceeded to talk to an agent for about 20 minutes. We then marched over to the Emirates counter, where another 20 minutes passed, during which time he collected another passenger who was, I believe, Indian.

We then went to the security screening area. That took about 30 minutes, during which time the officer with our passports disappeared. We went through the screening one at a time, each of us waiting on the sterile side for the rest of us to go through. Eventually the officer with our passports came back and said, “Now we’re going to my office.” We went up a flight of stairs and into a two-room office crawling with cockroaches. The officer gave us departure cards (which were the landing cards with the words “Arrival information” scratched out) and had us fill them out. Then he left the office, locking our passports in the inner room.

After about 20 minutes, one of our group decided he’d had enough and went to a nearby airport lounge to complain. Soon thereafter a second, rotund officer came back, went into the inner office, came back out and left, saying, “He’ll be back soon. Don’t worry, you have plenty of time.” Eventually the first officer came back, saying, “I didn’t know you wanted to go to the lounges.” He disappeared into his office again for a few minutes, then called us in one by one. Inside, he took all of our “departure cards” and transferred the information into a big ledger. We were then allowed to leave with our passports, one by one.

When we finally got on to the South African flight, about 3 and a half hours after landing, we were told by someone already on the flight that this could have been avoided had we paid the immigration officer a “fee” of around 100 euros.

When I returned to the U.S. I contacted United and relayed the story. I suggested that they have some passenger education to places like this, and possibly also have a crew member assist passengers in getting through immigration. They gave me 5000 miles for my trouble, but said that there wasn’t anything they could do in the future to avoid such an incident.
 

weihlac

Verified Member
Jun 30, 2017
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#3
Not looking for help, but thought that the community would be interested in a recent travel nightmare of mine.

I paid the fine and went on. (Parenthetically, it turns out that visitors entering Nigeria from countries where yellow fever is endemic do need to show proof of vaccination, but no one else. And, in a bit of irony, I *had* been vaccinated for yellow fever (which provides lifetime protection) years ago.)
Your medical information is not current.

"Currently, International Health Regulations specify that a dose of yellow fever vaccine is valid for 10 years. Therefore, at present, travelers to countries with a yellow fever vaccination entry requirement must have received a dose of yellow fever vaccine within the past 10 years "
 
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Mar 8, 2018
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#4
Your medical information is not current.

"Currently, International Health Regulations specify that a dose of yellow fever vaccine is valid for 10 years. Therefore, at present, travelers to countries with a yellow fever vaccination entry requirement must have received a dose of yellow fever vaccine within the past 10 years "
The CDC currently states that Yellow fever vaccine is good for a lifetime https://www.cdc.gov/yellowfever/vaccine/index.html
 
Sep 19, 2015
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#5
Weilhac is correct -- not surprisingly.

For most travelers, one dose of yellow fever vaccine provides long-lasting protection. However, because of the current outbreak, Nigeria is considered a higher risk. For this reason, if you were vaccinated against yellow fever 10 or more years ago, talk to your doctor about getting a booster dose of vaccine before your travel.

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices/alert/yellow-fever-nigeria

Didn't the corporate travel warn about this -- no sterile transit area is already a hassle as that means entering and exiting a country.

And if they require a yellow fever vaccination card, it makes sense for transit passengers, as mosquitoes do not care.

There are some places where there is a lot of corruption -- and inefficiency. Maybe they were looking for a bribe -- but again this is something that happens in that area of the world -- think of it as being your own personal "lobbyist".

And if one is chasing an upgrade -- well, there may be a reason why there were many seats available.... but I realize that one wants to maximize the time in business and if the company will not pay for business......
 
Likes: Neil Maley
Jul 21, 2019
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#6
Your medical information is not current.

"Currently, International Health Regulations specify that a dose of yellow fever vaccine is valid for 10 years. Therefore, at present, travelers to countries with a yellow fever vaccination entry requirement must have received a dose of yellow fever vaccine within the past 10 years "
Ah, you may be right. Of course, the "officer" didn't know this since I didn't volunteer the information that I had *had* a vaccination.
 
Jul 21, 2019
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#7
Weilhac is correct -- not surprisingly.

For most travelers, one dose of yellow fever vaccine provides long-lasting protection. However, because of the current outbreak, Nigeria is considered a higher risk. For this reason, if you were vaccinated against yellow fever 10 or more years ago, talk to your doctor about getting a booster dose of vaccine before your travel.

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices/alert/yellow-fever-nigeria

Didn't the corporate travel warn about this -- no sterile transit area is already a hassle as that means entering and exiting a country.

And if they require a yellow fever vaccination card, it makes sense for transit passengers, as mosquitoes do not care.

There are some places where there is a lot of corruption -- and inefficiency. Maybe they were looking for a bribe -- but again this is something that happens in that area of the world -- think of it as being your own personal "lobbyist".

And if one is chasing an upgrade -- well, there may be a reason why there were many seats available.... but I realize that one wants to maximize the time in business and if the company will not pay for business......
Lol, so no, corporate travel didn't warn me--I think I was the first person ever to go there. Interestingly, when I got back and checked with our compliance department, they said that it was OK to pay the $20 because at that moment I was "under duress". But had I paid the 100 euros up front to avoid all of this (assuming that that would've worked anyway), I would have been in a lot of trouble for bribing an agent of a foreign government.
 
Sep 19, 2015
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#9
Interesting, thanks for the clarification Christina
I think the yellow fever may be getting nastier in some regions -- and the older school of thought on the vaccine may be too conservative.

On another note I read that cockroaches are evolving to be resistant to certain pesticides --- just to add a certain ick factor....
 
Likes: jsn55

jsn55

Verified Member
Dec 26, 2014
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#10
Well, you certainly got MY attention, msnyder. What an incredible ordeal! What excellent perspective you have ... I would have been a basket-case after the first hour. Having international travel experience only in "the usual" places, with the addition Egypt on an organized tour, I cannot imagine how you managed ... thank goodness you were one of a group. I have to laugh at the idea of a 'bribe'. Sure, sure, offer the guy a hundred euros and find yourself in jail. I don't think so! Three cheers for your excellent attitude, and thanks so much for sharing your story ... you never know how many people may be helped by it in the future.
 
Likes: mschlick
Nov 1, 2017
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#18
Not looking for help, but thought that the community would be interested in a recent travel nightmare of mine.
.
I've got a somewhat similar tale but held off posting it as it was more amusing than anything else.

I recently flew Taiwan -> Manila -> London

In NAIA Manila we had to change terminals. The people at the transfer desk told us we'd have to just go through immigration and security again (just like the US). Fair enough. When we get to the immigration desk the officer tells us, no we don't! We can stay airside. He actually leaves his booth and comes and argues with the transfer desk people. After about 20 minutes the transfer people agree.

But first our bags (and the bags of the six or seven other transfer passengers) need to be brought back from the other side of immigration. Simple - send a guy with a cart you think. Well no, what they did was round up a bunch of employees and send them, and they kept going back and forth bringing one bag at a time.

Then we go on a long walk following an employee. Long story short, it involved getting the bags X-rayed 3 separate times (they love their security theatre in the Philippines), dragging them up a flight of stairs, and as it's a flight to London a final passport and X-ray check at the gate. Oh, and a scary ride on the most delapidated bus I have ever seen outside of a scrapyard.

What was weird to me was, we can't be the first people to ever change terminals at NAIA can we? We had 3 and a half hours layover and made the flight, another lady and her three kids flying I believe to LAX only had a 2 hour layover and ended up missing her flight.

Anyway, may help someone with a similar itinerary.
 
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weihlac

Verified Member
Jun 30, 2017
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#19
It’s possible that perhaps the CDC might have changed this- that does happen, but you still need to maintain the record that you had it and bring it when traveling to those areas as proof.
There does seem to be variability of the yellow fever vaccine expiration opinions. However what the CDC says is not the relevant authority because if you need a yellow fever vaccination, by definition you are going to a third world country, and must satisfy the entry requirements of that country.

If the entry official says you need a vaccination within 10 years they are not going to be persuaded by a CDC web site in English.
If I were going to a country that requires yellow fever vaccination I would make sure that my vaccination card was up to date with a yellow fever vaccination within 10 years. Plus why take the chance of getting yellow fever. It is a bad disease to have.
 
Jul 21, 2019
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#20
Hi all--Just to clarify: as far as I recall, the lack of a vaccination card had nothing to do with our subsequent detention. All of the rest of the detained passengers were American (including a 12-year-old kid and his parents) and as I noted many of the people who got off the plane didn't seem to have any documentation with them as they passed the officer. Also, there's this: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6423a5.htm which seems to say that a yellow fever vaccination provides lifetime immunity (referenced from here: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/news-announcements/yf-vax-booster

Which reminds me of a similar "profiling" story. About 5 years ago I was on the subway in Prague, having been warned that officers on the train look for foreigners who hadn't stamped their tickets as they went through the entrance turnstiles. So I told a friend of mine that once we boarded (with properly stamped tickets) we wouldn't talk at all for about 10 minutes, then begin conversing in English. Sure enough, within moments of beginning a conversation, two plainclothes officers approached us demanding to see our tickets.
 
Likes: bignevermo