I think my last big travel mistake was missing the bus by one minute and having to pay an outrageous taxi fee to travel 50km from central Reykjavik to Keflavik International Airport in Iceland. There have been small mistakes, of course, in the meantime, but nothing really costly…until I tried to fly from Johannesburg to Livingstone, Zambia.
Yellow Fever is a problem in parts of Africa and a seasoned traveler like me should have known better….Here’s a word of a helpful advice: when traveling in Africa, it is prudent to carry your vaccination card and if you have not received your yellow fever vaccination, get it before you go.
I suppose I got off lucky when I just bribed my way out of a yellow fever vaccination verification during my transit through Lagos, Nigeria, but there was no buying off a British Airways’ agent in JNB trying to check in for a flight to LVI to see Victoria Falls.
Actually, I sent my wife Heidi ahead to check in while I returned the rental car, only to receive a text message 10 minutes later stating, “Keep the car, we can’t go.” It was too late for that, and as I entered the terminal I found Heidi in line at the BA ticketing counter. I thought that our bag were overweight, but nope – Zambia was added a yellow-fever risk country a few years ago, so now yellow fever vaccinations are necessary to return to South Africa.
No matter, we were traveling one-way. Didn’t matter – BA policy was no vaccination, no travel.
My concern now was about losing the value of the ticket – it was an Avios booking (incredibly only 4,500 miles and $40 for a $280 ticket) and BA Executive Club rules prohibit changes or cancellations within 24 hours of departure (even though I booked the ticket less than 24 hours earlier).
I rang up the Executive Club and reached a nice agent who worked with her support desk to allow me to change the ticket to a next-day departure – though we were charged a $55 change fee (per ticket) for my stupidity.
We could have gone into Johannesburg and tried to find a cheaper vaccination, but we opted to use the airport clinic, where the yellow fever shot was quickly administered for 650 Rands (about $65).
At the clinic, were warned that the incubation period is 10 days and if we left South Africa, we could not return until that period has passed. Hmm, the simple solution to that is to return to South Africa from another country, like Botswana or Namibia…not that we did that….
It was too late to make the flight, so we just booked a night at the Aviator Hotel close to the airport – nothing fancy, but a reasonable $75 with internet, free shuttle, and breakfast.
The next morning we made the flight…one day late to Victoria Falls, but now holding the proper health credentials.
One last observation. South African Government rules require a vaccination even if you are only transiting a third-country at risk for yellow fever. But, border officials are not exactly consciousness about checking on this. I was never asked to produce my vaccination card when landing from Lagos and when we returned from Botswana, we were never asked for proof of yellow fever vaccination, despite clear evidence of having been in Zambia in our passports.
So the risk seems greater with the airline (since they would have to transport you back and face a fine) than with the government – if you can get past the airline, you will likely have no problem getting past the SA government.