Tuesday, 17 August 2004

The Amazing Race 5, Episode 7

Luxor (Egypt) - Cairo (Egypt) - Nairobi (Kenya) - Kilimanjaro Airport (Tanzania) - Mtowambu (Tanzania) - Kibaoni (Tanzania) - Lake Manyara (Tanzania)

A series of mistakes — both by the television producers and the racers — provides an object lesson for real-life travellers in, “How not to get to Kilimanjaro Airport” and onward to the villages in Tanzania that are the scene of this week’s episode of The Amazing Race.

Luxor (Egypt) doesn’t have an international airport, so the teams have no choice but to start their journey south to Kilimanjaro Airport by going north to Cairo. From there, however, the producers require them to fly to Nairobi (Kenya) for the sole purpose of getting a flight on to Tanzania.

It’s a typical tourist mistake to fly to country X for the sole purpose of arranging, once in X, to get a flight from there to country Y. But the television producers, or their travel consultant (actually, I’ve seen no evidence yet that a travel consultant is involved in planning the show, although one should be), should have known better.

Aside from the hassle of having to clear customs and immigration (and perhaps procure visas or satisfy onward ticket requirements for entry) in country X, there’s the possibility, if you don’t arrange them in advance, that flights from X to Y will be more expensive or less frequent than they were when the guidebook you are relying on was researched, or that seats won’t be available for days or weeks. That’s the situation, to give just one of many possible examples, faced every year by tourists who show up in Bangkok, hoping to find cheap tickets onward to Nepal available locally at short notice, and end up paying extra to fly business class or spending the Himalayan trekking season standing by for seats on flights that were sold out weeks or months in advance.

In the race, the producers charter flights from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro, probably because they realized that the racers could otherwise have been stuck in Nairobi for several days, in spite of being willing to pay full fare.

It’s generally easier (although not always, and neither necessarily more nor less expensive) to get seats locally, at the last minute, on domestic flights than international ones. In this case, there is more likely to be space available at the last minute on the domestic flights from Dar es Salam to Kilimanjaro than on the international ones from Nairobi. But the directions to the racers don’t give them that option.

The only choice given the racers is what route to take from Cairo to Nairobi. If you can afford to be patient (patience is one of the keys to more affordable travel), there are inexpensive nonstop flights between Cairo and Nairobi — but not every day. If your schedule requires you to travel on another day (if possible, reserve your flights before you commit to the dates of a safari, tour, or the like), it’s both more expensive and less convenient, involving connections like those the racers make in the United Arab Emirates.

Several of the teams of racers make matters worse for themselves by assuming. in typical tourist fashion, that a First World airline will have the best service even between points in the Third World. It should be no surprise that while European airlines have many flights to and from Africa, they have almost none within Africa: to get from Cairo to Nairobi on Swissair, you have to go back through Zurich (just as to get from anywhere in Latin America to anywhere else in Latin America on any USA-based airline you have to go back through Miami or some other hub in the USA, with rare exceptions such as the United and American flights with local traffic rights between Buenos Aires and Montevideo).

Whether through knowledge or desperation, all the racers who bought Swissair tickets did manage to get them “endorsed” for use on faster, more direct connections on Gulf Air. I guess it didn’t make for exciting television, so we didn’t see how they went about it, but it’s a very important lesson about what is possible in the race, and permitted by the rules.

In the past, all the racers have assumed that because they had to use the first tickets they bought, that meant they had to take the first airline on which they bought tickets. That’s a reasonable assumption: all discounted tickets are nonendorseable. Airlines themselves can, and do, routinely endorse “nonendorseable” tickets in cases such as of suspension of service on a route, but that’s at the airline’s discretion, not the passenger’s.

Most travellers have never seen an endorseable ticket unless they have had to travel at the last minute, regardless of price, on full-fare tickets on business or in an emergency. But full-fare tickets are, by default, freely endorseable to any IATA member airline that accepts the so-called “industry fares” jointly fixed (under a Congressionally-authorized exemption from antitrust laws in the USA) by IATA “traffic conferences”.

It’s been only a matter of time before some racer figured out that, if they buy full-fare tickets, they can change airlines without needing to buy new tickets. I expect that, in seasons filmed after this week’s broadcast (unless the rules are changed), teams will routinely attempt to get their tickets endorsed to other airlines when they discover that there are flights available on other airlines arriving sooner than those for which they have bought tickets.

Kilimanjaro International Airport is a small airport serving mainly tourists, not a city or major population center, and not surprisingly it wasn’t the racers’ final destination. Haste made for more waste for some of them when, as soon as they got to the airport, they had to take a bus to the village of Mtowambu.

Taxis (especially long-distance taxis between, rather than within, cities or towns) in much of the world including large parts of Africa, are typically shared rather than hired for the exclusive use of a single passenger or party. The standard fare is for one seat, and the taxi leaves only once it is full. To win your business from competitors, drivers and touts inevitably say that the bus or taxi will be leaving “right away”, no matter how long it is actually likely to take to collect a full complement of passengers. And locals may not consider a vehicle “full” until it has taken on several times the number of people and/or quantity of cargo that you might expect. If you want the whole taxi to yourself, or want to leave sooner, you have to pay the fare for as many places as will be left empty.

The same holds true if you want to charter a bus. The teams that wait until their buses are full pay US$3-5 per person for the ride. But when Brandon demands that his driver leave right away, he is told that it will cost US$200, which he appears to haggle down to US$100. He seems to think he is being gouged, but that isn’t necessarily the case: If twenty more people, each paying $5, could fit in or on the bus, then the operator is foregoing $100 in potential revenue, and $100 extra is a fair price to pay for them to leave without waiting for their bus to fill up. It remains to be seen whether, in the race, it will prove to have been a worthwhile expense for the amount of time it saved.

Link | Posted by Edward on Tuesday, 17 August 2004, 23:59 (11:59 PM)
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