BACKGROUND: Airlink is a South African privately-owned airline business. As a regional feeder airline it offers a wide network of flights in southern Africa, connecting 37 destinations in nine different African countries as well as St Helena. Airlink now offers flights directly from O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to Fascene Airport, the international airport in Nosy Be, in north-western Madagascar. Fascene Airport is one of the busiest in the country, as Nosy Be has a thriving tourist industry, with direct flights from several European capitals. The Airlink flight departs on Sundays at 09h30 from ORTIA and arrives at Nosy Be at 14h00. Return flights depart Nosy Be at 14h45 and arrive at Johannesburg at 18h45 (SA time).
CHECK-IN: There was no queue at the Airlink counter in Terminal B. A pleasant customer service agent, with a professional manner, checked me in, allocating my preferred window seat, near to the front of the plane. Check-in can be done online, but I like to do it in person. I was given fragile stickers for my diving equipment. Note that a maximum of 20 kilograms is allocated per passenger, including sports equipment. Extra weight bears an added cost.
LOUNGE & BOARDING: Passport control was quiet, so I was through in a few minutes. As this flight has economy class only, there is no dedicated business class lounge. Airlink is a member of the South African Airways Frequent Flyer Voyager Programme, so SAA lounges may be used, depending on your status. (Note that in Nosy Be, there are no lounges in International Departures.) Boarding – from Terminal A – was on time, with passengers taking a short bus trip to the aircraft. The boarding stairs are at the front of the plane.
THE SEAT: The 37 navy blue leather seats are lightly padded. Configuration is three seats per row, with an aisle separating a single seat from two next to one another. In the Embraer ERJ135 cabin, storage is limited, with overhead compartments located only on the right side of the plane. I found my single window seat, 3A, with its slight incline to be sufficiently comfortable. Legroom is adequate, but storage space under the seat in front is minimal. The food tray extends fairly close to one’s body, so is well designed for easy dining. Avoid seat 2A as it is situated next to the galley.
THE FLIGHT: Departure was relaxed and on time. There is no entertainment or power on board, but the in-flight magazine provided an excellent read. Soon after take-off, I was offered iced water or Ceres fresh fruit juice to drink, by the lone flight attendant. Fifteen minutes into the flight, a light snack was offered, with a meat, chicken or vegetarian option. Neatly packed in their signature blue cardboard box, the vegetarian meal included mushroom quiche on a bed of fusili pasta, with raisins and a light dressing, tasty crackers sealed in thin plastic and three star-shaped hand-made South African chocolates in a pretty box with a silver ribbon. Heldercrest Chardonnay 2017 and Heldercrest Shiraz 2016 were available. Tea and coffee were served, plus additional water or juice. The debris was cleared away immediately after I was finished eating. The captain communicated height and speed of the plane, suggested that we look at the spectacular views over Vilanculos – where foamy white waves bordered swirls of turquoise and cerulean in the ocean – and gave us an advance warning that we were landing 15 minutes ahead of schedule.
ARRIVAL: The plane touched down early, with a comfortable landing. Exit was immediate and I took a short stroll to the small airport building in Nosy Be, where I had a short wait in a queue for a Madagascan visa, then passport control.
VERDICT: This journey was easy and relaxing. I enjoyed flying at the civilised time of 09h30, after a leisurely morning trip to ORTIA. For business and leisure travellers, Airlink is perfect for a reliable, on-time flight direct to Nosy Be, to avoid the bustle of Antananarivo. C