Happy Friday! Hope you’ve had a great week! I think my body is just about back on U.S. time. I’m actually able to keep my eyes open past 8 or 9 PM now, although I’m still waking up very early, usually by 5 AM. That’s okay by me though; I’m loving the early morning hours.
I thought I’d address one of the most common concerns and questions I received before I left for Morocco. Several folks voiced surprise I was traveling there and were concerned about safety. I wan’t really worried because I knew Overseas Adventure Travel wouldn’t offer a trip there if they felt it was unsafe.
Also, whenever I book a trip, I always sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program called STEP for short. It’s quick and easy to sign up and it’s free.
Here’s how STEP explains their program:
I completed the short form online a couple of months before my trip. During that time I had a few emails from STEP about minor protests in a few cities in Morocco, but nothing that caused any real concern. Of course, I purchased trip insurance as I always do. Normally I purchase the type that will allow one to cancel for ANY reason, but this time I didn’t. I just trusted that OAT would cancel the trip if anything negative popped up. Keep that in mind when you’re buying trip insurance, that some companies offer insurance that will let you cancel for ANY reason, not just sickness.
A BIG, BIG CHANGE
One thing that happened in the middle of my trip to Morocco that caused me and my fellow OAT travelers a bit of consternation was an announcement that TSA was enhancing security for 10 departure points/airports, including the airport we were flying out of in Morocco. The announcement stated that “all personal devices larger than a cell phone or smart phone be placed in checked baggage.”
What??? There was no way I was putting my camera and laptop into my big suitcase if I could avoid it. I didn’t even bring along a camera case since I had just tucked my camera and my laptop into my carry-on bag. Others in my group shared stories of having had laptops and cameras stolen from their checked luggage in the past, so this was definitely a concern as we all left Morocco to fly home.
We knew there wouldn’t be any problem flying out of Morocco to Paris, the issue was going to be getting through security and on a plane in Paris to head home to the United States. Just before leaving I received an email from Delta letting me know that my flight out of Paris to the U.S. was being delayed by 1 hour. At the time I didn’t link that to the enhanced security procedures, but I do believe now that’s what caused the delay.
When I arrived at the Charles de Gaulle airport from Morocco, it was business as usual. France doesn’t participate in Global Entry so I joined the regular security lines with everyone else. As is normally the case, I noticed all the folks in front of me were taking their laptops out of their carry-on luggage and putting them in one of the little bins to be scanned. So I wasn’t the only person who hadn’t placed their laptop in their checked luggage. The security personnel were all acting normal, like nothing had changed. No one was fussing at us for having our laptops in our carry-on bags. Ummm. As Alice would say, curiouser and curiouser.
Since I had some free time at the airport, I did something I had never done before, I stopped into one of the duty-free shops in the Charles de Gaulle airport. I bought a bracelet in Hermes and saved a bundle from what they cost in the states. I will definitely be checking out the Hermes boutique in the future whenever I’m in that airport with a layover. Had no idea you could save so much buying Hermes products in France (where they are made) and purchasing duty-free.
The Disturbing Part!
Afterwards, I headed for my gate. Now, here’s where it gets interesting and disturbing at the same time. About an hour before we were to board, an Air France employee announced that anyone who had flown in from Morocco, needed to come up to the gate now.
A good size group gathered near the gate, probably around 20 people. I was pretty far back in the line so I was able to watch what was going on. Everyone else (those who had not stepped forward indicating they were coming from Morocco) intently watched the process unfolding in front of us.
TSA had set up another security check/screening point right there at the gate. They had set up a long table and were instructing each person who had come forward to remove their shoes, coats, sweaters, etc… Then they scanned each person and their shoes with a wand-like device. They even lifted up each person’s shirt and scanned up under it.
Next, they closely examined and scanned each person’s carry on bag, having them remove almost all the contents. This definitely would not have been a good time to have packed an extra pair of underwear or any private/personal items in your carry-on because it was all pulled out and put on display for everyone standing in the line or nearby.
If a passenger had a laptop inside their carry-on bag, it had to be turned on so they could see it was a working laptop. They scanned everything: cameras, laptops, purses everything. Of course, they looked closely again at our IDs, passport, purses, etc…
So here’s the part that I found really disturbing. As I stood waiting my time to be scanned and screened, I walked over to the Air France employee who had made the announcement and asked him why he hadn’t just called out the names of those of us who had come from Morocco, instead of asking people to voluntarily come forward. Or, they could have located and pulled those people aside individually. I pointed out to him that if a person flying in from Morocco was up to no good and was planning to board our flight, there was no way they would come forward and voluntarily subject themselves to additional screening.
So, are you ready for his answer? He replied, “Because we don’t have any way of knowing which passengers have flown in from Morocco.”
What??? I just stared at him dumbfounded. I argued that surely their computer system contained that information. Surely it knows if anyone boarding our flight has just flown in from Morocco. He just cheerfully repeated his answer and didn’t seem to understand at all why I was concerned.
I went back to my spot in line and discovered that several folks in the line had overheard our conversation. They were as shocked by his answer as I was, even angry! We all got on the plane that day feeling at risk because of how poorly the screening process had been handled, hoping there were no bad guys boarding the plane with us.
Hopefully, that’s not how the screening process is being done now at that airport. I received an evaluation/questionnaire from Delta when I returned, asking how everything was. I shared what happened in the Charles de Gaulle Airport, but who knows if anyone even reads those things.
We never had any problems the whole time we were in Morocco. Everyone we met was friendly and glad to see us there. Once while walking down the street, some folks in a passing car waved and yelled out, “We love America!” Another time when we were all sitting eating in a very crowded market area in Marrakesh, someone yelled out, “Thank you America for coming back.” I’m not sure what they meant by that, but it was very nice.
With all the enhanced security measures, I’m not sure I would visit Morocco right now. I have no idea what’s going on to cause the extra screening, but I think I’d wait a bit. Morocco is a beautiful country with very friendly people and I enjoyed my visit there very much. I’m looking forward to sharing some photos of the gorgeous countryside in a future post.
Overseas Adventure Travel
I will definitely travel again with OAT. I loved traveling with a small group and that’s all OAT does is small group travel. I also like that OAT doesn’t punish single travelers by charging them a single supplement. There are so many folks traveling alone these days and both Overseas Adventure Travel and their parent company, Grand Circle Travel, are working hard to capture that part of the market. They are doing a good job, too!
If you should ever book a trip with either of those companies, be sure and mention my name or this customer number: 2634289, and you’ll get $100 off your trip for being referred. They’ll also take a $100 off any future trip I take and I definitely plan to take more with OAT.
This trip met all my expectations and was an amazing value. The food was great and the hotels we stayed in were all great. We did get bumped from a riad we were supposed to be staying in by the King of Morocco! No joke! The King was traveling through Fez and he and his entourage wanted to stay in the very same riad OAT had scheduled for us, the Riad Salam Fes. So OAT had to change our schedule to move us to a different one. The one we stayed in was great, but I will always wonder about the one we were supposed to stay in. Apparently, it was fit for a King! lol