BACKGROUND: Founded in 1995, privately owned and based in Johannesburg, Airlink now connects to 37 destinations in nine different African countries. It also links smaller towns, regional centers and hubs throughout South Africa. From Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka, Airlink offers two f lights daily – departing at 06h25 and 18h20 – six days a week, with a flight time of just less than two hours. In 1997, Airlink joined South African Airways and South African Express in an alliance. Airlink has 46 aircraft, including the Embraer ERJ 135 – manufactured in Brazil – with a cabin height of 1.82 metres and cabin width of 2.10 metres.
CHECK-IN: There was no queue at all, at the Airlink counter in Terminal B. A professional customer service agent, with a warm smile, checked me in seamlessly, allocating my preferred window seat, near to the front of the plane. Check-in can be done online, but I prefer to do it in person.
LOUNGE & BOARDING: Passport control was quiet, so I was through in a few minutes. As this f light 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 Lusaka, there is a pleasant SAA lounge in International Departures, which I found to be comfortable and quiet, with an entertaining view of the runway.) For my f light to Lusaka, I waited in ORTI’s Biz-hub Business Class lounge for an early morning coffee, some fruit and to scan the newspapers. Boarding was on time, with a free f lowing queue.
THE SEAT: The 37 dark 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, 6A, with its slight incline to be sufficiently comfortable. Each seat has a new, disposable antimacassar. Legroom is adequate, but storage space under the seat in front is small. The food tray extends fairly close to one’s body, so is well designed for easy dining.
THE FLIGHT: Departure was relaxed and on time. There is no entertainment or power on board. A brand new Skyways in-f light magazine provided an excellent read. Soon after take-off, I was offered iced water or fresh fruit juice to drink. Breakfast was a choice of a sweet or savoury snack. Neatly packed in their signature blue cardboard box, the savoury snack included three delicious, cold, pancake-like omelettes – rolled with cheddar cheese in the centre, sealed in crisp plastic to ensure freshness – sweetened fruit yoghurt and a whole-wheat rusk. Tea and coffee were served, plus additional water or juice. The efficient airhostess, working on her own, cleared away the debris immediately after I was finished eating.
ARRIVAL: The plane touched down on time, with a gentle landing. Exit was immediate and I took a short stroll to the airport building, where I had no wait at passport control, as there were several customs officials on duty.
VERDICT: This pleasant and easy journey was a relaxing experience. I enjoyed flying early, at 06h30, to have a full day in Lusaka. For business and leisure travellers, Airlink is perfect for a reliable, on-time flight to Zambia.
T. Central Reservations on +27 11 978 1111