Zimbabwe is quite a large country (390,757 square kms). The distance from the capital city of Harare to the second largest city of Bulawayo is 439 kms by road and to the city of Victoria Falls, the most important place in Zimbabwean tourism, is 709 kms. Domestic aviation is therefore important, or rather should be important. But with many people struggling with the daily costs of life not many of them can afford to fly. A one-way domestic flight costs around 200 USD which is what most people earn in a month. The two main airlines are Air Zimbabwe and Fastjet. Air Zimbabwe’s fleet is very interesting. It includes
- one E145, registration number Z-WPQ, built 22 years ago, flies regularly to Johannesburg, - one A320, Z-WPN, built 20 years ago, has not flown for a very long time, - two B737-200s, Z-WPA and Z-WPB, both of them built about 36 years ago. This flight was with Z-WPA; Z-WPB has not flown for a long time, - two B767-200s, Z-WPE and Z-WPF, both of them built about 32 years ago, and neither of them have flown recently, - two B777-200s, Z-NBE and Z-RGM, both of them built about 18 years ago, and neither of them have flown recently.
Boeing 737-200s were produced from 1968 to 1988. Very few airlines still operate them nowadays; some of these include Air Inuit, Canadian North, Chrono Aviation, Glencore and Nolinor in Canada; Aerosucre in Colombia; Ameristar in the US; Aviatsa in Honduras; Avio, Estelar, Rutaca and Venezolana in Venezuela; Halla in Somalia; Jayawijaya and My Indo in Indonesia; SEAir in the Philippines; Trans Air in Congo. As you can see no major airlines still fly this type of plane.
Air Zimbabwe flights are not allowed in the EU.
I took a taxi for $30 from my accommodation to the airport, located about 20 kms from downtown Victoria Falls. I went to check-in at the Domestic Terminal.
The check-in agent, very friendly, told me that that this flight would be operated by a 50 seater Embraer plane. I was a bit disappointed as I was hoping to fly on the B737-200.
The international terminal is right next to the domestic one.
Mack Air is an interesting small airline based in Kasane, Botswana. They fly between Victoria Falls and Kasane using 12-passenger Cessna Grand Caravan EX planes. The scheduled flight time is only 20 minutes and the flight costs $200 per person plus taxes. You can also drive between the two places in about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
This screen shows the domestic departures of the day from Victoria Falls. Johannesburg is of course not domestic but check-in for this Fastjet flight is at the domestic terminal.
These are the departures from the international terminal on that day. Kenya Airways flies from Nairobi to Cape Town sometimes directly, sometimes with a stop in Livingstone, Zambia and sometimes with a stop in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
I cleared security in a minute. This is the waiting area before boarding:
Then I saw the inbound Air Zimbabwe flight landing – and it was a B737-200! The flight was already on its way when I was checking in (it first flew from Harare to Bulawayo then to Vic Falls) yet the agent didn’t know which type of plane would be flying. Strange. “There was a change of aircraft so it’s free seating anywhere on economy class”, said the boarding agent.
I boarded the plane. The friendly crew welcomed me, asked for my boarding pass and directed me to seat 7A. So it’s not free seating. Not an issue at all – I was happy with my seat. There were not more than 20 passengers on this flight – this is not a surprise as the flights are so expensive.
The plane has a business class in a 2+2 configuration. There were a few passengers sitting there although business class cannot be booked on this route.
Economy class has a classic 3+3 configuration. The cabin definitely feels and looks retro. I like it!
The cabin crew strictly followed the safety protocols such as briefing the passengers seated in the emergency exit row and performing the safety demonstration.
The crew was friendly, efficient and professional throughout the flight.
An expected flight time of 55 minutes at a cruising altitude of 33,000 feet was announced.
We started to taxi at 09.18 for a scheduled departure time of 09.30. We took off at 09.24.
The view after take-off:
A lucky draw was announced: they collected all boarding passes and one lucky passenger got a free Air Zimbabwe flight.
On-board catering was included in the price: beef biltong, water, a mango juice and a disinfectant spray were offered. Very good for a one hour domestic flight.
Let’s have a look at the on-board magazine Skyhost.
The front page was in braille as well but printed in 2D so could be only seen but not felt. Not very useful for blind people.
Fleet in service: E145, B737-200, B767.
“Air Zimbabwe recently scooped two Gold Awards courtesy of Zimbabwe CEO’s Network as an Outstanding Airline in Zimbabwe in recognition for professional business proficiency.” It was very reassuring that I was flying an award-winning airline (irony intended).
The view before landing.
We landed at Harare Airport at 10.15 for a scheduled arrival time of 10.30.
Harare Airport was built in 1957 and still has a very strong 1950s feeling.
Zimbabwe has a bad reputation in the news. Most people outside of Africa have only heard about Robert Mugabe, hyperinflation and economic instability and many of them assume Zimbabwe is a dangerous place. Not only is Zimbabwe one of the safest countries in Africa, it’s also a fantastic tourism destination with the mighty Victoria Falls, beautiful nature, reasonably priced luxury guesthouses, good roads, busy malls and very friendly people. It’s time for the world to discover Zimbabwe.
The path leading to the Victoria Falls:
The Victoria Falls:
Overview of Harare:
Heroes Acre National Monument:
Two white lions at the Lion Park near Harare:
A giraffe roaming freely in the nature about a one hour drive outside of Harare:
Victoria Falls - VFA
Harare - HRE
This was time travel: an expensive domestic flight on an old aircraft with retro seats, low passenger load and complimentary onboard catering. Although Air Zimbabwe is everything but a competitive or modern airline I enjoyed every moment of this flight. While the flight was time travel to the 1980s, the arrival airport was time travel to the 1950s.
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What a treat! The most iconic aircraft amongst those actually flying commercial services in Africa and you made it! That's almost better than the lucky draw although I find the idea just great. Thanks for sharing this ride in the past. I agree with you, Zim has bad press but that's only in Europe. That's why travelling can help change perspective. All jokes apart would love to see the 762 back in the air.
Hello Okapi and thank you for your comment. I enjoyed every moments of this flight. And yes, what you see in Zimbabwe could not be more different from what you here in the news
Hi David, thanks for sharing this FR! Definitely a retro report, still remember flying B732s when WN used to operate them in the 1990s. I’m assuming you weren’t the lucky winner of the draw? It’s good to see that the catering/service at least justified the airfare. How much was Fastjet in comparison?
Hi NGO85, thank you for your comment. I didn't enter the lucky draw - I let the other passengers to have a chance to win. paid $190 for my Air Zimbabwe flight and Fastjet would has cost $180.
A very exotic flight on a very exotic trip. Very cool to get to ride a 737 classic. Good service and comfortable, though old, cabin--but yes, $190 is very expensive for such a short flight. It kind of reminds me of how crazy expensive the trains are between Cuzco and Macchu Pichu. It seems this type of route is mostly catering to tourists (luxury tourism even)
Thanks for sharing!.
Thank you for your comment!
A real delight for sure, especially after scoring a such rare bird.
They must be well maintained if those are the only type owned and flying...Did you feel safe stepping onboard?
Yup, and those with a stop look convenient for admiring the falls
I would enjoy it but certainly not a crowd pleaser especially for vegans and the likes.
That skyline photo from the Kopje is simply sublime!
Thank you for your comment! Yes, I felt completely safe. If the captain feels safe to fly, I feel safe to fly. And the cabin crew followed all safety protocols. Sure, the beef biltong is not for everyone but I guess the airline wanted to offer something typically Zimbabwean. Not many people would recognise this photo was taken from Kopje. How come you're so familiar with Harare?
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