Flying in East Africa: all you need to know

No. Travellers

International Adults
12+ years

International Children
Under 12 years

Resident Adults
12+ years

Resident Children
Under 12 years

Infants Under 2
International or Resident

No. Travellers

International Adults
12+ years

International Children
Under 12 years

Resident Adults
12+ years

Resident Children
Under 12 years

Infants Under 2
International or Resident


No. Travellers

International Adults
12+ years

International Children
Under 12 years

Resident Adults
12+ years

Resident Children
Under 12 years

Infants Under 2
International or Resident

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  21 September 2017       Tripindigo       5 min read

For those who have done it, flying in East Africa is easy, fun and even adds to the sense of adventure. For first timers, however, there are a number of small but important differences when flying domestically and regionally, from what they may be used to in their previous travels.

From airport types, international vs local airports for connections, types of aircraft used, cabin classes, baggage rules and restrictions, excess baggage, visas, ground transport and transfers, Tripindigo presents a concise overview.

It is not uncommon to hear the stories of the unwary traveller arriving at their scheduled flight destination only to find that there is no information kiosk, there are no desks with willing salespeople trying to fill hotel rooms, there are no taxis waiting outside to whisk the tourist away: the family has arrived at an airstrip in the middle of a National Park, unaware of the fact that prior arrangements need to have been made!
Read on.

Flying in East Africa has become easier and cheaper in last 5 years. There are now multiple domestic airline operators, servicing more than 675 local and regional routes. Competition is fierce on the more popular routes resulting in good prices, whilst on the least popular ie: tourism to remote destinations, fares can be high. The once remote and inaccessible beauty of East Africa can now be easily reached.

1.The East African Airport Experience

Like any other country in the world, East African countries have 3 types of Airports:

  1. International airports,

  2. Domestic airports and

  3. Airstrips.

There are over 97 airports (international & domestic) and and 150 airstrips located in East Africa.

On your arrival, your experience of the service and facilities provided and found at the airport may be different depending on the type of airport it is, and the location of your destination. From full service ‘as expected’, to no service's ‘totally unexpected’.

International Airports

The International airports will have more choices in services and facilities available, similar to the european and western or mass market airports.The airports will have Information desks, Taxis, ATM Machines, Restaurants, Gift shops, Western style toilets, shuttle buses, lounges and nearby hotels.

Julius Nyerere International airport

Read more: Julius Nyerere International airport

Domestic Airports

The domestic will have fewer choices in services and facilities available compared to the international airports. Some domestic airport may not have ATM Machines, Restaurants, nearby hotels, shuttle buses, or a lounge.

Arusha Airport

Read more: Arusha Airport

East African Airstrips

As for the Airstrips (private and public), you may find that the services and facilities provided are very limited and some are non-existent.

In remote locations such National Parks/Game reserves, camps/hotel in the Serengeti or private islands, you may find that the only facility/service available is a working toilet. You may find that there are no taxis on arrival and any transportation will need to be pre-arranged by the hotel or the safari agent where you pre-booking was made. This is important as most hotels and camps will be 1 to 2 hours away from the airstrip.

The landing strips at such airfields are typically of cut grass or swept gravel.

Selous Airstrip

Read more: Selous Airstrip

2.Visas

Tourist Visas can be acquired on arrival at any international airport in any East African country. (If the country (eg: Kenya) offers the option of an e-visa, one that is applied for online, we recommend that the option is taken).

The process at the airports is not complicated as long as you have the relevant information (passport, relevant vaccination documents if applicable, address where staying and a contact number - your own mobile no. will suffice) and of course pay the visa fee always charged in USD, preferably cash for no hassles.

 

What is cumbersome is the long queue that you should expect at the visa application and passport check out desks. The process can be slow and may take 1 hour to 1 hour and 30 minutes before going through immigration. During the months of May - August, the visa applications lines may be longer due to the increased number of visitors.

Long queues at the airport.

Refer to these guides for a list of countries and nationalities that can apply for e-visas or do not need a visa at all to visit Kenya or tanzania:

3.Connecting to local flights

It is very important that you know where your local connections depart from. The vast majority, but not all, local flights leave from a different airport from the international one. As said, there are exceptions, so be very sure. And this can be confusing eg: Dar es Salaam, Tanzania International and the ‘local’ airport actually share the same runways, but are referred to as separate airports. (In many large cities these will be seen as different terminals). It is not possible to walk between these 2 ‘airports’ despite their proximity to one another. Nairobi International and the local airport, Nairobi Wilson, are about 20 km (12 miles) apart.

Make sure you have sufficient time

The distance between the two airports may range from 5 minutes to 1 hour away depending on the city. As such you will need to leave sufficient interval time between the transfer from one flight to another.  The minimum interval time for transfers that is recommended is 3 hours. This should give you sufficient time to go through immigration, baggage collection and airport transfer (taking account of East African traffic).

Passengers at the Arusha Airport waiting for their domestic departures.

In the case of a delay at the immigration desk , luggage collection or by your arrival time and you have a connecting flight, do not panic. Contact the airline that you are going to be flying with and they will be able to provide you with assistance (contact details are found on your ticket).

The airline may delay the departure time for your connecting flight or even have an attendee come to get you at the international airport. However this is not guaranteed and it is completely up to the individual airlines.

4.The Fleet

Now that you have made it to the domestic airport, what kind of aircraft can you expect to find? Well the fleet come in different size and capable of taking different number of passengers. However all the domestic airplanes are comparably smaller than what you may be used to.

 

The most common type of airplane that are available among the airline operators are the 13 seater Cessna Caravan 208BG1000 

Cessna C208B Grand Caravan

and the 30 seater Embraer Brasilia 120  5H-IHN. The biggest domestic plane in East Africa will be the Fokker F28, which is capable of flying 67 passengers.

Embraer Brasilia 120  5H-IHN

There are also smaller private planes like Cessna C206 Stationair and Cessna Citation 560 Ultra, capable of taking 5 and 8 maximum               passengers respectively. These are private chartered planes and can be ordered on request .

Cessna C208B Grand Caravan

5.Baggage Allowance

Due to the size of the planes being relatively small, the luggage allowance is limited  compared to the international airlines. The allowance does vary with every operator, but as a rule, 15kg (33lbs) check-in luggage and carry-on items limited to one soft bag and 3kg (6.5lbs). However all airlines do recommend that you travel with soft luggage of 38cm x 67 cm as this is the size of the cargo doors.

Some of the soft Luggage that recommended by the airlines                                       

6.Seasonal Flights, On-demand flights and Charter

There are 62 airline operators flying to 657 routes in East Africa. However not all routes have daily flights or scheduled flights going to and from their location.


There are seasonal flights that only operates during tourist seasons. The flights to the National Parks (Selous, Lake Manyara, Amboseli, Laikipia) will increase during the peak tourist season and decrease during low season. The fares for such location may also vary depending on the season.

The Serengeti

Read more: The Serengeti

For the less popular routes, airlines may impose a minimum number of passengers per flight (called ‘On demand’ or ‘Induced flights’). The number of passengers required may range from 2 - 4. Such routes include flights to Morogoro.

There are also some flights that are only available by request to the airlines. This is due to a lack of flight demands for areas such as Songea, Kigoma, Mbeya.

If you still can not find any flights for your destination, then a private charter can be arranged by the airline. The fares for the chartered fleet are manageable if you are in a group. Arrangements for group bookings can be organised.

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