Morocco’s King Mohammed VI ceremonially opened the new terminal of Marrakech’s airport in December 2016, reportedly expanding its capacity from 3 million passengers per year to 9 million. The enlarged airport is also visually striking, with a façade shaded by an undulating perforated screen and an interior filled with gleaming shops and inviting restaurants.
Yet the airport’s design is deeply, shamefully flawed. Without proper preparations, arriving at Marrakech Menara can be extraordinarily unpleasant.
When we first flew into Marrakech, it took us 30 or 45 minutes to get through the immigration line, which was inconvenient but not unexpected. It was, however, quite a shock to arrive in that same immigration hall after a domestic flight from Ouarzazate to Marrakech. That shock turned to outrage when we saw the line, which stretched far outside the rope switchbacks and snaked out of view. It must have been two hours long, and we were not having any of it.
Shock turned to outrage when we saw the line. It must have been two hours long, and we were not having any of it.
Those of us in the front of the group from our plane called over a guard, and explained that because we were on a domestic flight, there was no need for us to go through immigration. Unconvinced, he kept insisting that we head to the back of the line, and the increasingly angry 50 passengers on my flight kept insisting that we would do no such thing. One woman who spoke Arabic finally convinced him to let us use the fast-track immigration line, which took only 15 minutes.
When I later returned to the Marrakech airport, I spotted an information desk near our gate. I asked whether it was normal for passengers on domestic flights to have to go through immigration, and the young woman told me that indeed it was, except perhaps for certain flights from Casablanca. When I inquired why on earth that was necessary, she exclaimed, “It’s for our security,” as if I’d asked why there were metal detectors. “We need to be able to keep track of where people are flying,” she continued, apparently believing the flapdoodle she was spouting.
It doesn’t seem to have occurred to her, or to the Moroccan powers that be, that one can also keep track of people who are flying simply by collecting passenger manifests. The lack of a domestic arrivals area is an embarrassment, and a great inconvenience for travelers who wish to fly within Morocco.
To avoid finding yourself stuck in a long immigration line, it’s well worth the small additional expense to purchase fast-track entry. The Royal Mansour includes fast-track entry as part of its transfer service (included in the room rate), or you can arrange the service through any good hotel concierge or travel agent. Book a VIP transfer including fast-track entry even if you have a domestic flight within Morocco. In high season and on weekends, it’s an absolute necessity.
A VIP transfer also usually ensures that you’ll be met upon exiting the aircraft, which saves the additional annoyance of trying to find your driver in the large crowd outside the Marrakech airport’s front door. Also note that the arrivals hall seems to have only one ATM, which usually has a line, making it wise to bring one- and five-dollar bills with you for tipping until you can reach an ATM in the city center.
Marrakech’s new airport looks pretty, but navigating it can be an ugly experience for unsuspecting travelers. A VIP transfer and fast-track entry are worth every dirham.