“And then of course I’ll bring the drone” Thomas said, as we went over, yet again, what we’d packed for our Morocco trip. I’m always afraid I’ll forget something important, like say, my passport, so I like to double or triple check before I go somewhere. I nodded, my face bare peeking up from my bag as I rummaged around making sure I had everything. I assumed this meant he’d checked if drones were allowed in Morocco, or that he already knew, given that he’d already visited. After all, he’s worked in a photography store for many, many years, and the first thing we advise people of as they buy a drone is to make sure they’re allowed to bring in, and where you can legally fly them at your destination.
We met up with Ingeborg, our former co-worker and Thomas’ old travel buddy at a café in Essaouira, as it happened she was also in Morocco at the same time as we were. Excited we told her about our trip out in the Sahara desert, and Thomas said he got some really cool drone footage as the sun was setting over the sand dunes. “You brought the drone?” Ingeborg asked, giving him a puzzled look. “Are you sure that’s legal? I looked it up online before I left, and all I could find online was that they were illegal to bring in, so I left mine at home”. I looked at Thomas. Surely he would have checked that up, right? “They did not say anything at the airport”, Thomas shrugged, “and not out in the Sahara either”. I sighed. “Okay, so maybe we should be careful not to use it anywhere with a lot of people then, Thomas, we would not want to offend anyone here” I said. He nodded.
“I think I got some really cool drone shots” Thomas said as we were in the taxi on our way to the airport in Agadir. It was our last day, and we’d had some great hours in the sun, drinking fresh pressed orange juice and taking some last photos. “I’m excited to see the RAW-material, I was thinking one of them would look really cool if we got it printed out rather large and framed for our living room”. I smiled. All our gear was neatly packed down, and we’d decided to arrive early at the airport, to avoid stress and to eat something before our flight. The first thing they do when you go into the airport is screening all your things. When our bags came out on the other side, Thomas was stopped.
I’m always stopped for extra inspection at airports. In addition to all the normal stuff one brings, I usually stuff my carry-on with a MacBook, Kindle, iPad, several cameras and all the necessary chargers and batteries. My bag looks like a Transformer on the x-ray.
2:50 pm – airport security check-point
«Is this your bag?»
I could indeed confirm that it was my bag and I prepared for the normal procedure. Everything out of the bag. The puzzled look on the officer («Why would someone need all these gadgets??»). Putting everything back while trying to not leave anything behind.
Damn. I was hoping they wouldn’t find that.
I confirmed it was a drone, and I realized they had found what they were looking for.
We were told to check in our luggage, and come back to the security check-point.
I told Desirée to wait in the departure hall, as I went back to talk to the officers.
“DoyouthinkweareintroubleThomas?” I said, my voice sounding small, anxious. Thomas shook his head. “I’m sure it’ll be fine” he said. I surely hoped so. After checking in our bags, Thomas went back to the screening area, and I sat down on a bench waiting.
…and I waited.
The officer had now radioed for backup, a nice enough man who guided me through the airport police station. Conveniently located on the other side of the airport.
I asked the officer if I was in trouble, but he didn’t speak any English.
It’s not the first time I’ve had to explain all the gadgets in my carry-on, and the airport police are usually more lenient when leaving a country, so at this point I wasn’t all that worried. Luckily we had arrived at the airport with plenty of time, departure at 5 pm, boarding at 4:30 pm.
The officer in front of me was busy yelling at his computer, so when I asked if I could use my phone to message my girlfriend, I got a grunt in return. I took that as a yes.
“Luckily”, I thought to myself, “it’s still over 2 hours until our flight departures. This is why it’s a good thing to arrive early at the airport.” A message from Thomas ticked in. He seemed relaxed, and I asked if he was in trouble. He said he did not think so. He’d probably be out soon. I opened up Instagram and scrolled.
…and I waited.
3:15 pm – airport police
I answered in English that I do not speak any french, and got another grunt in return.
He then inspected the drone thoroughly. I confirmed that the drone had a camera, and that I had used it in Morocco.
The officer turned to his nemesis, the computer, and started on what I could only guess was an incident report.
In the meantime I texted Desirée, saying that everything was OK. She got a bit worried when I mentioned the police station, but no stress I told her. We have plenty of time.
The officer kept on typing his report. Slowly. With one finger.
«Drone very illegal in Morocco! You not know this?»
I did not know that.
A younger officer joined us. This fellow spoke a bit English, and explained to me what was going on. Basically, drones are very illegal in Morocco and that the drone would be confiscated. I asked if I was in trouble, which he declined. He then went on to ask the same questions as the first officer. What brand, had I used it in Morocco, did it have a camera. Did I have extra batterier? Yes, I did.
This answer made the first officer, if possible, even happier. He tore up the initial report which was just done printing, and turned to the computer once again.
And I could feel myself getting more and more anxious. What was happening? Where exactly were Thomas? Was he ok? Why was this taking so long? Was he in trouble, or would they just give him a warning, giving he was just about to leave Morocco? “I hope he backed up the photos” I thought to myself, my hands feeling sweaty as I saw the minutes go past, and still no Thomas. How illegal was it to bring in a drone to Morocco? Would they confiscate the drone? Would he be arrested? The thought of that made my legs shake, and I was glad I was sitting down.
The officer presented me with a paper written in arabic. All I could understand was my name, date of birth and «DJI MAVIC AIR». I must have looked a bit perplexed, so he called in the younger officer to translate.
«bla bla bla …
drone… MAVIC AIR yes?
bla bla …
This is you yes?
… all very standard yes!»
All four copies.
Could I get a copy of the document? No.
Could I take a picture of the document? No.
At this point I just wanted to get this over with, and get something to eat before boarding the plane.
«It is important that you say the same thing to the next officer!»
Ok. So we’re not done. My spirit sank just a bit. The officer took the drone and the report, and off we went. Across the airport again, to a new office with a new officer.
The new officer looked briefly at the drone and report, and decided to write a new report. I sent a new message to Desirée saying that everything is OK, but that we’ll definitely lose the drone. She was clearly worried at this point. I asked the new officer how long this would take, as boarding was starting in 45 min. It shouldn’t be a problem.
“Any news?” I texted Thomas. “I get a fine. And they confiscate the drone” he finally replied. I could feel myself getting angry. At security, taking forever, at Thomas for not double checking before we’d left Norway, at myself for not making sure he’d checked, at the universe, at myself for not having eaten anything all day. “Well, that’s just great” I wrote back. “At least they must be done soon, right? We really should get over to our gate soon”. “I’m sure I’ll be back out any minute now” Thomas replied, sounding as calm as ever.
…and I waited
«You pay 1.544 dirham in fine!»
Ok. I didn’t see that coming. The officer looked perplexed that I didn’t have that amount on me, so he called for someone to escort me back to arrival where I would find an ATM.
When I came back, the officer decided to have a cigarette break.
At 4:15 pm he was still typing on his report.
I was told it was just 5 minutes more.
Desirée started to get nervous about the flight. She was still in departure, and we both needed to go through security and emmigration to make it to our gate.
At 4:20 pm he started to take a copy of my passport. It must have been the slowest copy machine ever.
«Only 5 minutes now…»
At 4:28 pm I was still in the office. The officer was in no hurry. Desirée was freaking out. Should she go through without me? Would I make the flight?
«Now, just receipt!»
It was 2 minutes past the time printed on my ticket that said “Boarding”, and I had no idea what to do. I started to move through security, the economic and rational side of me thinking that at least one of us should get on that plane. Maybe I could get them to wait, or to call the police so Thomas could get on the plane too, or worst case, at least we’d only have to buy one new ticket and not two? I shook my head. Under no circumstances would I be able to just sit down on that plane, without Thomas, and without seeing him knowing he was ok. I could feel tears start to form in my eyes. Couldn’t they just take the money, the pictures, the drone, everything, just let Thomas get on this plane with me?
I had to run through the entire airport, back to Departure. I found Desirée just after Security, and we hustled our way through emigration by waving our boarding cards and shouting «Boarding 5 minutes ago!!!» The flight was set to depart at 5 pm. We made it to the gate 4.50 pm. The flight was delayed, and took off at 6 pm.
So, an expensive lesson learned:
Never assume anything!
Always check up! And double check; it can’t hurt.
The worst thing is that I can’t blame anyone but myself.
Have a drone, and want to bring it for your adventure?
Here’s what you should have in mind
and check up before leaving:
- You can check here if drones are even allowed in to the country you’re visiting here
- You can check if you’re in or close to a “no fly-zone” with the app AirMap
- Check local regulation on maximum altitude
- Read Luftfartstilsynets drone guide for play and leisure