Has anyone flown Air Zimbabwe? I have a friend flying them in August and he was wonderng about anyone's experience on the airline (especially considering he will be on the flight 13 hours from London to Zimbabwe).
Yup ... been there done that. We flew Northwest SF to Minneapolis, London. After 10 hours in London, we flew London, Harare, Cape Town all on Zim Air. Zim Air is not the wealthiest of airlines, in fact they are almost bankrupt (so what's new?). They do not have very big planes (i.e. definitely no 747's or DC-10 size jets). The 4 flights we took were all on older planes, but appeared to be in good condition.
Here is what the FAA has to say about Zim Air:
Aviation Safety Oversight: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Zimbabwe's civil aviation authority as
category 3 -- not in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Zimbabwe's air carrier operations. Flights to the U.S. by
Zimbabwean air carriers are not permitted unless they arrange to have the flights conducted by a carrier from a country meeting international safety standards.
The flight from London to Harare was fine, if cramped. All flights were in coach. Food was not bad, beers were excellent. Cannot remember whether or not I saw a movie.
Arrived at Harare airport and had to wait on the Tarmac while they found somebody to unlock the airport to let us in. We were obviously the first flight to arrive that morning. We stayed in the transit lounge as we did not want to pay the $25 or so that it would have cost. About 30 minutes after we arrived, they opened the rest of the airport i.e. the one bar counter and small duty free shop ... needless to say, there were no lounges. We orderes two sodas (no real food available), asked if we could pay with USD and the waiter removed $1 from my hand. I thought that was cheap until he brought me change in Zim Dollars and I realized that the sodas cost us about $0.30 US. Gave the waiter the change i.e. approx. 70 cents and he did not leave us alone the rest of the time we were there.
Here comes the real kicker!!! Harare --> Cape Town --> Harare, no problem. We arrive in Harare for the return ... fortunately it was late afternoon so the airport was open this time. We waited in the transit "lounge" and eventually, when we were supposed to be taking off/leaving, they asked everyone to go onto the tarmac and identify our bags, else they would not make the flight (the plane had been there the whole time). This went on for about 45 minutes and multiple announcements. Then we heard people .....ing that they had business class seats and that they had to be on the flight as they had a meeting in London the next morning. Then, we saw a few military vehicles arrive and armed forces jump out. This entourage was followed shortly by a flagged Mercedes and a dignitary jumped out.
By this time I was very curious and asked the guy that was complaining about his business class seat and meeting what the deal was. Oh, he exclaimed, Robert Mugabe (the President of Zimbabwe)decided at the last minute that he wanted to go to London. Apparently, Zim Air took away his private plane as the government ran up a huge debt with the airline and would not pay it, so he now flys "commercial". So, they cleared out business class (there is no first class) for Mr. Mugabe and his 4 colleagues (yes the whole of business class for the five of them). They then did a first-come-first-serve basis with the coach seats and when the plane was full, they turned the remaining passengers away (thank goodness we were in-transit and checked in early).
Here is my favorite part of the story. After we finally boarded the aircraft, all the PA announcements started like this: "Your Excellency, Comrade President, Fellow Comrades, ladies and gentlemen ..." Even the pilots used this phraseology for their announcements.
Having said all of that, at no time on any of the flights did I feel unsafe. The pilots are generally trained in South Africa and were taught in the South African Air Force (i.e. good training). If I had to, I would fly them again, but I certainly will try to avoid them where possible.
[This message has been edited by Travelcrazy (edited 01-22-99).]
I flew Air Zimbabwe last fall, without incident. It was a short flight (Windhoek Botswana to Victoria Falls -- barely one hour), so it's not comparable to a flight from Europe to Africa.
But I laughed at the previous description of Mugabe's travels with the airline. I was told by two separate people in Zimbabwe tourism that the airline's schedules could not be trusted because the president would frequently "borrow" one of the planes for government (or private?), business and flights would be cancelled with only a few hours' notice.
Catman - the president used to (with no notice whatsoever) empty the *entire* commercial flight - which is one of the fundamental reasons why Air Zimbabwe is suffering. The airline's current problems are to do with cashflow/management, in large part due to interference by the government (such as the commandeering of planes by VIPS) I believe that the airline management is doing their utmost to control this and regain customer support...
JIMBOLIGUY - although it has been some years since I last took a long flight with Air Zimbabwe, what TC says about the standard of Air Zimbabwe's pilots is true - they are very good. A close friend of mine (my flatmate in London) is the son of the chief engineer for this airline, and I know that although Air Zimbabwe has limited resources and has been unable to invest in new planes, they take good care of their fleet and are thorough in ensuring that their planes are airworthy.
In fact, the only two fatal events for this airline since 1970 were in the late seventies, and were a direct result of the civil war that existed at the time...
Fatal Events Since 1970 for Air Zimbabwe
1.3 September 1978; Air Zimbabwe Viscount; near Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe: The aircraft was on a scheduled flight from Kariba to Salisbury when it was hit by a missile. The aircraft had a forced landing about 19 miles (30 km) from the Kariba airport. All four crew members and 44 of the 52 passengers were killed. Ten others survived the landing but were apparently killed by guerrillas.
2.12 February 1979; Air Zimbabwe Viscount; near Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe: The aircraft was on a scheduled flight from Kariba to Salisbury and crashed after it was hit by two missiles. All four crew members and 54 passengers were killed.
[The civil war ended in 1979]
The only releatively recent 'event' that I'm aware of is one of their light planes driving off the end of the runway into some trees about 18 months/2 years ago. No one was hurt, and the plane was unscathed. There were some red faces...
As far as flying with Air Zim goes - their cabin staff are very friendly, the cabins are a little shabby (money is spent on essential maintenance, etc), and their sense of timing for internal/regional flights is inclined to be a somewhat flexible... Unless affected by acts of VIPS I think that their international schedule is relatively accurate (They fly into Johannesburg, London-Gatwick and other European destinations, and have to stick to the schedule there...) Air Zim (code UM) is often significantly cheaper than competing airlines, and if your friend wants to save money, may be a good choice. The last time I flew with them intercontinental economy passengers were given a goodie bag (toothbrush, comb, etc), and they did show at least one movie. The food is passable, and there are free drinks - including Castle lager, which TC enjoys so much...
I flew with Air Zim on various regional/internal flights early last year - once again, they're okay, slightly shabby interiors, laid-back but friendly staff, and an African sense of timing (don't plan any tight connections... but they'll get you there)
Not a bad airline - and definitely an exposure to the real Africa...
[This message has been edited by baobab (edited 01-23-99).]
Good posting baobab. I agree wholeheartedly with your comments. I may have come across a little bit negatively, but they are good value for money and I woud fly them again if I had to. Also, DON'T arrange a schedule that is tight and cannot be missed!
MK - they're perfectly safe, just a little slow...
They don't have an ff scheme, but you do get free drinks - even on internal flights!
BTW - if you are travelling to Africa and expect to get to everywhere you're going on time... don't go. My brother worked at Victoria Falls for some time, and used to take the train to get back to civilisation. He never asked whether the train was going to be late: he asked how late it was going to be...
[This message has been edited by baobab (edited 01-26-99).]