Flight check: CemAir


BACKGROUND: CemAir is a privately-owned South African airline that was established in 2005. Its headquarters are at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. CemAir currently owns and operates three Bombardier-CRJ regional jet aircraft, as well as a fleet of 10 Beechcraft 1900s. It currently flies to Margate on the South African south coast, Kathu in the Northern Cape, Plettenberg Bay in the Western Cape on the Garden Route, and now Bloemfontein. The airline is also looking at other attractive routes within South Africa, to increase its route network.


CHECK-IN: As it was an early flight with a 06h30 departure time, there wasn’t much in the way of a queue when I arrived at check-in around 05h30. Everything was handled quickly and I was soon in the security queue. Just a heads-up – if you’re flying from ORTIA around this time on a Monday morning – as I was – take into account the large number of weekly commuters all departing around this time, which can make getting through security a lengthy process. Rather leave yourself extra time and avoid a long queue at the last minute.

LOUNGE & BOARDING: CemAir does not have a lounge offering, so I made use of the SLOW lounge, before making my way down to the gate, where there was a bit of a wait before we boarded 15 minutes late, accessing the aircraft via bus.

THE SEAT: The single class Bombardier-CRJ has 50 seats with a 2-2 configuration. It’s a small and cosy aircraft, and if you’re comfortably over six feet in height – as I am – you will find yourself ducking on boarding and finding your way to your seat. That being said, I found there was more legroom than you’ll find on South Africa’s low-cost carriers. All in all, a comfortable seat, with a CemAir inflight magazine in the pouch in front and overhead luggage storage above, although no inflight entertainment.

THE FLIGHT: After taking off a few minutes late at 06h39, the remainder of the flight was straightforward and without incident. But, not too much can go wrong during a 40-minute flight, so arguably the biggest task for the onboard crew was efficiently getting tea/coffee and something to eat to a group of travellers who had all been awake since around 04h00. This they achieved without any fuss, and further enhancing the experience was the cutlery and crockery offered by CemAir. Not for them polystyrene cups that seep coffee onto your tray, or plastic containers with soggy sandwiches. Instead, a nice, big, chunky coffee mug, accompanied by a decent, mid-sized plate with cutlery and a tasty wholewheat roll consisting of chicken, cheese, lettuce and sweet chili sauce. It’s also the first time I’ve been offered a Lindt chocolate with my meal. Further to that, there was bottled water on demand.

ARRIVAL: We eventually touched down at 07h21 and quickly made our way from the plane, via the tarmac, to the arrivals hall, which was a short distance away. Bram Fischer International Airport in Bloemfontein is a small and quaint, yet clean and efficient airport, with an inviting-looking coffee shop and a selection of services, including an ATM and a couple of shops. The time between exiting the aircraft and exiting the arrivals terminal must have been all of five minutes, barely.

VERDICT: CemAir’s plan is to take on SA Express on this route – a route it believes is being poorly serviced for the large number of weekly commuters between Johannesburg and Bloemfontein. SA Express currently enjoys a monopoly on this route and CemAir believes it can offer a better, more reliable service at a better price, although it’s important to note that CemAir is not a low-cost carrier, and instead plans to offer its customers a ‘full service’. It is punting itself as ‘South Africa’s most personal airline’, and if the inaugural JHB-Bloem flight is anything to go by, then they may be on to something. At the very least, the weekly commuters on this route now have another option.

Dylan Rogers