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Flying to Morocco yes, but only in a private jet

Morocco is the only country in the world that keeps flights suspended as a preventive measure against the omicron variant. With which, thousands of Moroccans and foreign residents have been blocked. Some cannot return and others do not dare to leave because no one guarantees them a return date. But this rule does not affect dozens —perhaps hundreds— of travelers who have been able to afford to buy a ticket on private planes, with between 8 and 13 seats, and land in Casablanca or Marrakech.

Antonio Fernández, The assumed name of a Spanish businessman residing in Morocco, managed to travel last week from Malaga to Casablanca on a flight chartered by the Moroccan air taxi company Sarah Airways, with headquarters in Casablanca. The aforementioned investor, who requests anonymity, assures that he learned of the existence of these trips through other businessmen.

“He had to come to Morocco urgently, because we have to close the final of the exercise and the opening of the following year”, explains Fernández. “I found out that the flight cost the equivalent of 1,500 euros. Someone among the travelers assumes the coordination of the group and the rest of us join until we complete the number of seats. I paid a third when I started the process and the rest five days later, when my place was confirmed”.

This newspaper contacted a travel agency in Rabat that offered a ticket for 1,550 euros in a six-seater plane that is scheduled to leave for next January 26. An employee of the agency warned: “Before that date we have three flights, but all of them are already full”.

The businessman says that both the departure from Malaga and the arrival in Casablanca were made by the VIP zone. “We were 13 on the flight. The majority, entrepreneurs from the textile and agricultural sectors. And the great fear that we all had was that it was a scam”, he specifies.

The flight had a waiting list, according to Fernández. “And a player from the Raja Casablanca soccer club stayed on the list.” The Moroccan authorities demanded a negative PCR test carried out 48 hours before and another of antigens when landing in Casablanca. “If any of the passengers tested positive for the antigen, we were forced to spend a 10-day quarantine in a hotel at our expense. So on the flight we all wore masks. Except for the pilot, the co-pilot and the stewardess. I was shocked when I arrived in Morocco to see that hardly anyone wears a mask on the street”.

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This newspaper contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to find out how many private flights have entered Morocco since the closure of the airspace decreed on November 29, how many people have made use of that means and what criteria were used to authorize private flights. Foreign Affairs pointed out that this issue depended on the Ministry of Transportation. Finally, an authorized Transportation source indicated: “For us, the airspace has been closed since November 29, as we reported at the time in a statement. If there are flights coming in, that already depends on other instances”.

2,000 euro tickets

Following the consultations initiated by this newspaper, the Moroccan media outlet Assabah published an article on Tuesday in the one that informs about “secret offers” to travel in private jets where each ticket can cost the equivalent of 2,000 euros.

Antonio Fernández assures that the demand for these flights is so high that their cost is “multiplying” with each trip. The businessman believes that the Moroccan State should offer more transparency about these flights, so that the high demand does not push prices up even more. “Today, Monday, January 17, several businessmen continue to contact us from Spain and Morocco asking for details of these flights.”

The aforementioned investor hopes that the Moroccan government will soon open the airspace. “Although they implement very harsh sanitary conditions, but at least they allow movement between countries. Because this endangers foreign investment in the country. There are companies that need the presence of qualified technicians who come from Europe. And some businessmen say that they do not understand what people who are dedicated to hospitality and tourism live on”.

The Government of Rabat announced this Tuesday an urgent aid plan for the hospitality sector and tourism. After the discovery of the ómicron strain only Japan, Israel and Morocco sealed their borders. But while Israel and Japan opened them after a few weeks, Rabat decided to continue with them closed indefinitely. The decision has wreaked havoc on the tourism sector, key to the country's economy along with agriculture and the automobile industry. Despite the shielding of the borders, the ómicron strain is already responsible for 95% of the country's infections. And the number of infections is about to reach record levels since the start of the pandemic.

The closure of borders has created a lot of discomfort among Moroccans blocked abroad, who express themselves through the social networks. Some of them denounce the high cost that forced residence outside of Morocco is assuming for them. Foreign residents in Morocco who have been deprived of spending Christmas in their countries of origin also complain because they did not have a guaranteed return date. That is the case of a Spanish employee who works in the city of Tangier and requests anonymity. “I find it outrageous that they allow only those who can afford to pay for those private flights to enter,” he says. “That all this is legal leaves you unsettled. There are many of us who have not left the country for three months because there was no clear date for our return. And now it turns out that there are these flights for those who can afford it”.

In the Moroccan press, one of the few voices that spoke out against private flights was a columnist for the daily Tel Quel, who on December 17 resorted to irony to address readers in an article titled: Closed borders? Buy yourself a jet . “The fault is yours, if you have not been able to see your next ones this year. (…) Because you have not had the means to spend 50,000 dirhams to rent a plane”.

Exceptional departure flights

The public company Royal Air Maroc announced this Sunday that they were going to schedule “exceptional” departure flights to several countries, including Spain, until January 31, the day on which regular flights could be allowed again. That supposes a respite for hundreds of passengers who will be able to leave the country. But, as for flights to Morocco, the exceptions are minimal, apart from high-cost private flights.

The Moroccan authorities have authorized the arrival of a flight from Rome in which 121 officials who work in embassies of the European Union and who spent the Christmas holidays in their countries of origin will travel. The ticket price is 320 euros. The authorities only accept, in principle, those who carry a diplomatic or service passport, without their relatives. And they are required to have a PCR test 24 hours before traveling, in addition to keeping a seven-day quarantine at home in which three more PCR tests should be done, on the second, fourth and sixth day of quarantine. Passengers on private jets, however, are not required to undergo any quarantine.

On December 20, the Moroccan Ministry of Health issued a statement explaining that it had chosen to repatriate its nationals – between December 15 and 23 – to explain why Morocco had chosen to transfer to its citizens from Portugal, instead of Spain where many more nationals live. The ministry argued that the Spanish authorities do not exercise “due and strict control of the health status of passengers at the time of boarding at their airports.” These reservations have not been an obstacle to the takeoff of the private jets.

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