A recent incident in Nepal made me think of some of the airport scams I've seen over the years. But first, the incident. Last week, a Turkish Airways jet skidded off the runway at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport. (Read More). The airport was closed for 4 days because Nepal has neither the equipment nor the expertise to move a damaged airplane from the runway. Nepal has only one international airport, and very little other than tourism to generate revenue. One minor accident (there were no serious injuries) can cripple a country like Nepal. This is the cruel reality of "developing" economies (I've always found the term "developing" diplomatic, but inaccurate, when talking of countries where development may never come).
We had 3 participants stranded in Doha, Qatar, by this mess. 2 of them were actually in the air when their plane was forced to turn around! The third never got off the ground. Hmmm... 3 days in Doha without luggage (luggage cannot be accessed when it's checked through). Not fun!
When the first 2 girls finally got to Kathmandu, the airport was total chaos as 3 times the normal number of flights were coming in (see Sarah's blog). Getting luggage was out of the questions, so they left without it and headed to the ELI Abroad volunteer house (Sarah's picture on the right gives you an idea). The third participant had an even rockier arrival. When she was exiting the terminal in Kathmandu, someone from an unaffiliated guest house pretended he was there to pick her up. Unsuspecting, she was whisked off to a hotel, while our staff (and the two previous arrivals) looked for her. It didn't take long for her to begin to wonder why no other ELI volunteers were there. Fortunately, she was able to contact our coordinator and arrange to be picked up.
This is an ongoing issue at Tribhuvan Airport. The airport authorities don't care. I wouldn't be surprised if they get a kickback. This used to happen a lot in Accra, Ghana. Scammers are smart! What does it take? Pretty simple. You, the scammer, just look around to see what names are on signs and write the name on your own sign. If the victim sees your sign first, you're in business. Just remain vague and say "Yes, yes,yes!", and hurry them off to your hotel.
That is a little more sophisticated than the more common scam. As you exit the terminal, someone comes up, and before you can react, they've grabbed your suitcase and are hustling it off to a cab. You race after, but your luggage is being held ransom for an exorbitant cab fare. Ah, the joys of travel!
I haven't heard recently about the most notorious scam at Tribhuvan Airport. Visa on arrival has always been the most convenient way to enter the country, but what a racket. The guys who worked the visa desk would take your money, and if you had change coming they wouldn't mention it. They'd play dumb. If you asked for your change, they didn't have any - even if the person in front of you had paid with 50 one dollar bills. The only solution was to stand and watch until the next person paid using small denominations that would allow for you to get your change. Then, if you made a stink, you'd probably get it. I always said this was the best job in Nepal.
One smaller issue in Nepal is the cost of a photo for the visa. If you don't have one they'll gladly take one for you. The last time I was there, I think the price was $10. I just take a picture against a white wall and using photo editor I can fit 6 on a 4x6 picture. I get them developed for $.25. Then I'll always have extras when the need arises.
I've been taken once at an airport. And no, it wasn't in Nepal. it wasn't even in a developing country. It was in Ireland! I arrived early in the morning after an overnight flight from the States. I was taking the airport bus into town. You buy your ticket from a guy at the bus stop. I bought mine, but the guy engages you in conversation. This distracts you from the fact that he owes you change. When you're groggy after a long overnighter, you're an easy target for this. Well, I guess I can only speak for myself. I was definitely an easy target. I can't remember how much I lost, but I think it was about 20 Euro ($25 at the time). Oh well. Live and learn. If you travel, you are bound to run into these things. At the moment they might really irritate you, but hey, you've got a story for a future blog post!
By Kevin O'Neill