BACKGROUND: Registered in South Africa, CemAir is a privately-owned airline based at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport. With its fleet of 12 Bombardier-CRJ regional jet aircraft, 10 Beechcraft 1900s, and a single Dash 8s, CemAir offers scheduled flights to four regional destinations – Margate on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast, Sishen in the Northern Cape, Plettenberg Bay along the Garden Route and Bloemfontein in the Free State.
CHECK-IN: The first part of my early-morning journey from O.R. Tambo International Airport was fast and efficient. The check-in desks are located near the security check-in, so while it is a long walk with your luggage, your next port of call is quick to reach. I was asked to sign my boarding pass to indicate that I had been asked all the relevant security questions – something I’ve not encountered with another airline. The lack of a queue was due, in part, to early hour, but a greater contributing factor was that there were a total of four passengers flying to Margate on this particular Thursday
LOUNGE & BOARDING: Although not a low-cost airline, CemAir does not currently offer lounge access with its ticket sales, but you can pay for access to the Bidvest Lounge if you wish; walk-in guests are permitted for one and half hours at a cost of R174 per person. The airline is, however, working on a frequent traveller incentive programme which will include access to a business class lounge at O.R. Tambo as one of the benefits. I grabbed a coffee and made my way down to the boarding gate, which opened on time. We were ferried to the aircraft by bus and because of the small number of passengers, were told that we could sit anywhere we chose. Instead of addressing the plane as a whole, the single air hostess gave each passenger a personal safety briefing.
THE SEAT: The Dash 8 offers 36 seats in a single-class, 2-2 configuration. Aside from a little extra leg room in the front row, all seats are created equal, and it’s just a matter of personal preference. As I requested a belt extender, I was asked to move further back in the aircraft, to a seat with the requisite seatbelt to accommodate this anomaly. Apparently, some seats have newer infrastructure which are unable to allow for belt extenders. On-board entertainment consists solely of Skynews, CemAir’s in-flight magazine. This lack of distraction is good when you need to focus on work. All electronic devices are allowed to be used once the aircraft has reached cruising altitude, provided they are switched to flight mode. Honestly, the lack of entertainment didn’t bother me in the slightest; I was happy to lose myself in my book.
THE FLIGHT: From Johannesburg to the South Coast, flying time is 01h30. Our departure was slightly delayed, but we experienced a smooth climb through the fairly dense cloud cover. Once the aircraft had reached cruising altitude, passengers were served a light meal. The simple, but tasty, chicken mayonnaise whole-wheat roll was presented on a heavy porcelain plate, accompanied by an individually-wrapped square of Lindt chocolate, fruit juice and water, served in glasses, not plastic cups. The meal was followed by coffee – a generous spoon of Nescafe served in a while porcelain coffee mug.
ARRIVAL: Despite a delayed take-off, we landed on time. The Margate airport is miniscule, so there’s no trouble finding your way around. Even so, stewards were present to direct passengers to the tiny terminal. Inside the building were a couple of car hire desk and a coffee shop overlooking the runway from its position on the first floor. Luggage was wheeled in from the plane and handed over personally to each passenger inside the terminal. I was pleasantly surprised the my luggage, which I forgot to lock prior to check-in, had not been tampered with in the slightest – a thumbs up to the baggage handlers at ORTIA.
VERDICT: A professional, personal service to little-served, but much needed destinations, making travel to the smaller business nodes much more convenient.