Airlink is a privately-owned Johannesburg-based airline that specialises in less-travelled routes in Southern Africa. In South Africa, Airlink flies to Nelspruit, Polokwane, Pietermaritzburg, Phalaborwa, Upington, Umtata, Kimberley and George, along with servicing the bigger cities, as well. Beyond the South African borders, the destinations are Maseru (Lesotho), Antananarivo (Madagascar), Beira, Maputo, Pemba, Nampula and Tete (Mozambique), Manzini (Swaziland), Livingstone, Lusaka and Ndola (Zambia), and Bulawayo and Harare (Zimbabwe).
Friendly staff greeted me at O.R. Tambo International, but I wasn’t aware that I had to pay taxes on my trade ticket, which I think should have been made clear to me before the flight. This was an unfortunate start, as it meant scrambling to another part of the airport to wait in a queue, as well as having to endure the inefficiency of a rather unhelpful individual. Further to that, the documentation I was sent said the baggage allowance was 20kg. This was incorrect, as I was informed at the check-in counter that you are in fact allowed 29kg. Just make sure you confirm, as the allowance system is becoming more and more complicated these days.
I find the boarding process of regional flights at ORTIA frustrating, as the gates are far away and you have too few buses ferrying passengers. As a result, they have to make sure they are 100% full before leaving the gate, and, on this occasion, that last 5% took forever to fill up – never mind the fact that standing bovine-like in the bus does nothing for me. The plane wasn’t full, which was good for me, but not for Airlink. I guess that is the challenge, when servicing these niches destinations. Do you charge less and expect more people to travel, or do you charge more because only a certain number want to travel there?
Once we arrived at the aircraft, boarding was pretty seamless, and with that all sorted, we took off on time. We flew on an Avro RJ85, which has four jet engines and a seating capacity of 83.
Despite this being the most important part of the process (and thankfully it went fine), as a marketing person, I’m intrigued that so many people – myself included – let the food, the check-in staff, the scratches on your luggage etc all contribute to your flight experience. Yet, the basic function of getting there and back safely is ultimately what it’s all about. It’s a complicated industry, but we take that for granted (should we?) and start getting wrapped up in the side issues. Makes you think! The food on this flight was good, as were the drinks, and the seat was comfortable.
This is when things turned interesting, and it had nothing to do with Airlink. It was funny, though. Bulawayo has been constructing a new airport building for about 10 years. Just a simple building, nothing complicated and during this time their interim terminal is an old iron barn. The poor Home Affairs officials boil in the heat and get rained on, whilst an Eagle Owl and Red Wing Starlings breed in the rafters! Never mind the fact that there’s always a shortage of immigration forms. Then there’s the poor visa chap, who works in a room with furniture that is 50 years old, there’s no carousel for luggage, and the trolleys are rickety. But, having said all of that, the people are just so friendly.
An efficient service, however, as I mentioned, the only thing to look out for is the baggage allowance.