Ask The Pilot in Ghana

Ask the Pilot Ghana

American pilot Patrick Smith, who wrote the popular aviation column “Ask The Pilot”, wrote about his fascinating experience flying domestically in Ghana in West Africa.

Patrick has always been one of my favorite reads, and his piece on co-piloting a domestic flight in Ghana is no exception.

I would never recommend that anyone take a domestic flight in Ghana. Yes road safety is horrendous there, no question. But at least you have a chance in a vehicle.

Anyway, here is an excerpt from Patrick’s piece on Ghana, as he flew from Kumasi to Accra:

The drive to Kumasi’s airport takes about 45 minutes. That’s five minutes of actual travel time and 40 minutes of idling in gridlock amid mufflerless trucks, overpacked tro-tros, ambling goats, and gangs of adolescent hawkers going car to car peddling everything from cellphones to wallets to burlap sacks of that staple of Ghanaian subsistence, the cassava root.

The terminal [in Kumasi] is spartan and cheerless, but a pleasant enough place, all things considered. It’s a single-story block with windows facing the runway. The arrival and departure zones are basically the same room, separated by a corridor of offices and a small waiting area cooled by ceiling fans. I’d describe the décor as “Soviet tropical.” The Antrak ticket counter, if we can call it such, is a claustrophobic room on the arrivals side.

Inside, two women are seated behind a small desk. Like almost everybody in Ghana, the women are remarkably friendly. They recognize me from the earlier phone call and extend a warm greeting.

“Is the flight to Accra on time?” I ask.

“Yes, of course!”

The women tick our names from the reservations list, then politely ask us to pay.

“Sure.” I nod toward Julia, who has already pulled out the Visa card and placed it on the desk.

With this, one of the women opens her eyes wide and makes a moaning sound. The other makes a tsk-tsk noise and shakes her head. They appear startled, eyeing the credit card as if it were a rotten cassava.

“Oh, I’m sorry. We don’t take credit cards.”

“But … you mean?”

“Cash only, please!”

“Um.”

Now, maybe I’m not as well traveled as I think I am, because who ever heard of an airline, particularly one with resources enough to operate a $9 million ATR turboprop on scheduled services, that doesn’t accept credit cards? I’m either too jaded, or too naive, but I think to myself: This isn’t Congo or Mali, for heck’s sake, it’s Ghana!

The problem is, we’re out of money. The nearest ATM is back downtown, and departure is only half an hour away. There are no more flights until tomorrow.

“But this is all we have.”

Read the rest of No ticket? No problem. Hitching a ride in West Africa, the world’s most “dangerous” place to fly.