Traveling in Morocco: Planes and Airports
This is the third post in the "Traveling in Morocco" series which explores different options for traveling to and around Morocco and things to take into consideration with each option. Previous posts discuss everything you need to know about the ferry between Spain and Morocco, and how to catch taxis, private and shared.
Why fly to Morocco?
Planes are the most direct option to get from point A to point B with minimal fuss, whether you're traveling to Morocco or even within Morocco. It's a large country, so if you're trying to get somewhere "way out there" like Oujda or Ouarzazate, flying saves you a long trek across the desert. For example, Tangier to Marrakech used to be a 7+ hour trek by train (now it's down to 4 with the TGV) but flights are only 1 hour and cost as little as $50.
Budget airlines have made flying very affordable, sometimes even cheaper than other options like the ferry (from Europe) or train (only within Morocco, no undersea tunnels yet).
Why avoid flying?
A major downside of flying is the environmental toll, which I'm still trying to come to terms with as someone for whom flying feels like a necessity. Inspired by Greta Thunberg (aren't we all) I did go so far as to research cargo ships for my upcoming trip to America, but that's another story.
Flying doesn't leave you time to enjoy the journey. With other modes of transportation like the train or the ferry you get to experience and appreciate the physical environment as you travel; you have more time to anticipate, reflect, and mentally prepare yourself to arrive at a destination that may be very different from your point of origin. Flying disconnects you from the land and contributes to the alienation from the earth that we experience as members of a society which values efficiency at all costs and scoffs at the idea of taking one's time or waiting.
With those things in mind, when you choose to fly, here's what you need to know about flying to Tangier and Tetouan.
This month I had the opportunity to try out a new (to me) airport this month - Tetouan Sania Ramel; I took the Ryanair flight to Malaga which is new this year. So in this post I'll talk about that airport as well as the one I normally use, Tangier Ibn Battouta.
Remember, the best way to travel between Tangier and Tetouan is by grand taxi between the two bus stations, which costs 35 MAD per place (around 3.50€) and takes about an hour.
Tangier's Ibn Battouta Airport
There's just one airport in Tangier, Ibn Battouta, named after the fascinating 14th century Tanjawi world traveler. The airport hosts direct flights to and from many European cities (check out this list on Google Flights). Airlines that fly in and out of Tangier include , Air Arabia Maroc, Royal Air Maroc, Ryanair, Iberia, TAP, Vueling etc.
Although the airport is small, there's ample seating, food, and souvenir options. Note that the cafes and souvenir shops in Ibn Battouta only take Euro (Moroccan Dirham is not supposed to leave the country).
When flying from America to Tangier, I typically choose Iberia flights through Madrid because that seems to be the most direct and least stressful itinerary.
Getting to town from the airport
Tangier Ibn Battouta airport is located a 20-30 minute drive from downtown. There are car rental options in the airport, and taxis to the city center cost about 100-150 MAD. (Note that taxi fares are standardized and posted before you exit the airport. It's a good idea to ask your host or hotel how much to expect to pay for a taxi so you're prepared). There is an ATM at the airport where you can withdraw dirham, but taxi drivers also accept euros.
Tetouan's Sania Ramel Airport
(In this blog using the anglicized spelling "Sania Ramel" because this seems to be what is used in most English-speaking travel sites. "Saniet R'mel" - see the picture above - is the more accurate transliteration the Arabic name. R'mel means sand and Sania may mean brilliant and pure, but I'm not certain. )
The main pull of Sania Ramel is that it has extremely cheap flights to Europe, and is close to Tetouan and popular beach towns like Martil and M'diq. As I mentioned, my first experience with this airport was the 6:30 Ryanair flight to Malaga, and it was perhaps the shortest flight I've ever taken: just 25 minutes, barely enough time to go up and then go down (which, I realized, is a colossal waste of jet fuel, but it's just so damn cheap and direct! To get to Malaga by ferry it's easily a 5 hour trek which can cost upwards of 40€ one way, this flight was 20€ round trip.)
Similar to Tangier, expect a taxi fare of around 100MAD to get to and from the airport. The friend I was staying with in Tetouan arranged a taxi for me at 4:45am (woohoo) for this price.
Sania Ramel is probably the smallest airport I've ever seen, and it's also very swanky; it feels like an airport built for visiting royalty and VIPS that only recently was opened to the masses.
There's only a few check-in counters, and then you stand in line in the entrance hall to go through security and passport control which both happen in a tennis court sized room, and then on to the waiting area (which does have a cafe, which I assume only takes euros, like the cafes in the Tangier airport). The waiting area was about the size of the entry hall and quickly filled to over-capacity with all the passengers for our flight and the next.
The flight, as I've said, was brief, and the plane was more comfortable than I remember Ryanair planes being the last time I took one (5+ years ago, I think), but as a friend said of budget airlines "you can put up with anything for an hour." Perhaps in another post I'll talk about the the frustration of flying, specifically that infuriating mix of running and waiting that happens in airports, and the subhuman feeling you get from being crammed in with so many others.
Passport Control and Customs
At one point you used to have to fill out white entry forms whenever you arrived in Morocco, but as of the last time I flew into Tangier, we did not have to fill them out. Although you no longer have to fill out a form, be prepared with the address where you will be staying in Morocco in case they ask. Expect questions about your job and your purpose for visiting (tourism, business, etc.).
Once the passport control officer, pleasant and eager to practice his English asked if I was traveling "inlone." I gave him a strange look and asked him what he meant, and still couldn't understand what he meant as he kept repeating "are you traveling inlone?" and then finally specified "are you traveling with someone?" and finally the lightbulb came on and I said "ooooooh, yes I am traveling alone."
After passport control, comes baggage claim and on the way out, customs, where everyone must run their luggage through an x-ray machine whether or not you have anything to declare.
Moroccan infrastructure is continually improving and evolving especially in high-traffic tourist areas, so check the time-stamp of this article and keep in mind that things may be different than described in this post.
I did not receive any incentives to write this post or mention any companies or locations.