Arriving in Johannesburg

We were the last ones off the flight. When I say that, I can feel my husband rolling his eyes. In our defense, this was because two of our 8 pieces of hand luggage were stashed way in the back of the plane, the carry-on bins over our seats being already full when we boarded. He’s still rolling his eyes – as in, “why were you so late to board”? That was because we made a last minute decision to grab dinner at Heathrow. I guarantee he is still not sympathetic.

Anyway, moving on….We had 90 minutes to clear Passport Control, any Customs requirements, find the international transfer terminal, and board the puddle jumper flight to Maun in Botswana. I was a little worried about the lines. Plus did we need to collect our checked luggage?

It turned out to be fine, with 20 minutes to spare. After deplaning, we followed the twists and turns of empty hallways towards International Transfers. Either we had missed the lines by being last off the plane, or we were the only people flying immediately out of Joburg. That was a little weird in itself. At the end of a long echo-y corridor, we arrived at passport control where a pleasant gentleman asked us the usual questions – where were we coming from, where were we going? He stamped our passports and waved us through. Interestingly, he did not ask for birth certificates or parental consent affidavits for my children who are travelling with me but not their Dad.

South Africa has an apparently new paperwork requirement when travelling with children under 18. The purpose is to protect children from being taken across the border without parental consent. Travelling children must carry their birth certificates to show parentage and, if both parents are not accompanying the children, they must also carry notarized affidavits signed by the missing parent(s) indicating that they are allowed to travel on their own, with one parent, or with a named guardian.

This South African affidavit requirement took a lot of muss and fuss on our part before we left the U.S. We got all the versions of affidavits notarized just in case one or both of us couldn’t travel home with the kids for some reason. It turns out that if you are simply passing through Joburg Airport and not actually entering South Africa, no affidavits are needed. Luckily I got several hours of experience filling out tedious forms, so at least the time wasn’t wasted.

The affidavit process made me wonder why U.S. passports for children do not include names of the parents. Wouldn’t this be an obvious upgrade? It would save me from carrying original birth certificates along with passports for the offspring. When travelling to dusty, remote places, I prefer to reduce, not increase, the number of difficult-to-replace documents that might be in my backpack when it gets stolen.

These were my thoughts as we moved on to the International Transfer Terminal. Johannesburg Airport is fantastic. An upscale “Welcome to Africa” message abounds. The wide, well-lit spaces are filled with refined shops selling carvings, baskets, zebra skin rugs, impala hide cushions, brightly dyed clothes, wide brimmed hats, and hand-made sandals. We walked quickly despite our natural curiosity, our pace measured by the rapid click click click of our luggage wheels rolling over gleaming floors.

The International Transfer Terminal itself is much less remarkable with a poorly lit, cavernous feel. There are check-in desks for at least a dozen outgoing airlines including Air Zimbabwe, United Arab Emirates, Kenya Airways, Egypt Air, and of course Air Botswana. We promptly approached the latter to obtain boarding passes from an indifferent airline representative. Again, there were no lines at any of the desks. We did not have to gather our checked luggage or go through any sort of Customs. We simply presented our luggage receipts obtained at Heathrow and the airline transferred our luggage to the flight to Maun. Luckily the luggage receipts were stuck to the back of my British Airways boarding pass, and luckily I still had it.

Botswana boarding passes in hand, we got to go through Security again. We were the only passengers and our presence did not interrupt the ongoing banter and conversation among Security staff. They vaguely waved us through but did not ask us to remove shoes or jackets. They showed very little interest in the contents of our bags. So off we went to find our gate and a bathroom, which was available near the gate. The only thing I wished I had was a drink, or alternatively a few Rand for the coke machine.

Overall, it took us a little over an hour to transfer through Johannesburg Airport from our arriving British Airways plane to our Air Botswana departure gate. In our case, we did not encounter any lines. We needed our passports and the luggage receipts we got when we checked our bags at Heathrow. We went through Passport Control but no Customs. We did not need to collect our checked bags. I did not need travel affidavits for my children. I write these details here because they were questions I had when planning our trip.