I’m currently in Johannesburg airport waiting for the second of my three flights that will take me back to the UK. This is the third time that I have had a long transit here – the previous times being on the way to and from Namibia back in 2002. Unfortunately back then, even though our layovers were 12 hours long, our group leaders wouldn’t let us out of the airport to see the city. This time I was able to escape the airport and add another country to my list.
Leaving Victoria Falls
The day started with breakfast back at Victoria Falls Rest Camp. Even though I had technically left the trip after breakfast yesterday, with last night being an extra night, the crew were more than happy for me to join the group for one final breakfast and it was a great opportunity to say goodbye to everybody. There have been disagreements on this trip, like any overland trip, but the people have been amazing and I’m going to miss them.
I’m going to miss the crew too. The last few years have not been kind to the continent of Africa, especially for those working in the tourist industry, so I would have understood it if the crew had been grumpy on this trip but they were completely the opposite. They were so happy to be back out on the road, despite the additional challenges that navigating ever-changing vaccination and testing requirements brought them, and we had a great time. Mambo was an amazing tour leader and Danny cooked amazing meals that never left us hungry. Unfortunately I didn’t speak to Jackson, our driver, as much since he spent most of his time in the cab driving us from place to place but he was a great guy too.
Victoria Falls Airport
Victoria Falls Airport is a 30 minute drive out of town and the only way to get there is by car. There will be options in town, and at the airport, to book transfers and you will also be able to book them through your travel company. If you’re finishing in Victoria Falls then my advice is to just book it directly with your hotel since the prices will be a lot cheaper than booking it in town, and definitely a lot cheaper than booking it through your travel company. In fact my transfer cost me around half of what Intrepid wanted to charge me if I had booked it through them.
The roads out to the airport are brand new and there was no traffic so I arrived really early even before check-in was due to open. Not only that but the airport is one of those where nothing really happens when there are no flights due to I was the first passenger in the terminal and it took around 10 minutes before I saw another member of staff.
Check-in opened around 45 minutes after I arrived and, being Africa, was a little slow. It seems that they didn’t spend much time looking at my booking either as during the check-in process they asked me where I wanted to sit even though I had already pre-booked, and paid for, a seat on the plane. When I got my luggage tags I also saw that they had only checked my bags as far as Johannesburg despite me having two further flights on my journey home and this meant a delay while they had to offload my bags from the system and re-issue the tags again.
There was no running water at the airport while I was there which meant that all of the toilets and water fountains were out of order. I’m sure that this caused more than a few problems that day! The problem seemed to affect the restaurant too as I decided to treat myself to Eggs Benedict before my flight and, despite being at the terminal before check-in opened, they had already called my flight for boarding by the time my food was served so I had to eat quickly.
Flying on Fastjet Zimbabwe to Johannesburg
As an aviation geek I was excited by my routing back. My first flight would be with Fastjet Zimbabwe on an Embraer 145 down to Johannesburg where I would have a long layover before connection to two back to back A380 flights to take me back to London via Dubai with Emirates. The Embraer 145 is a plane that I last flew on in 2009, with American Eagle between New York and Boston, and I booked the same seat on both flights – 1A. I booked this seat for two reasons – firstly, 1A is that holy grail of seat numbers for aviation geeks and also because I know that it has extra leg room and no seats opposite it which makes it very private.
The flight left Victoria Falls on time and we were soon on our way to Johannesburg. Fastjet offer a very basic, but functional, service and the lone cabin crew member on board was really friendly. Although, the passenger a few rows behind me probably thinks differently after she was given cleaning supplies and made to clear up after herself after suffering from air sickness. She was also made to take her own waste off of the flight rather than it going in the bin. This is Africa, after all.
A long layover in Johannesburg
I have had a colleague in my day job for the past 4 years who works remotely from South Africa but, due to the distance, I have never met. My layover in Johannesburg wasn’t long enough to see the city but it was long enough for us to grab some food from the local supermarket, have lunch back at her house, have a hot shower and to relax away from the chaos of the airport which was a nice treat.
In total I was out of the airport for about 4 hours before checking in for my next 2 flights with Emirates and heading through immigration to the departure lounge. Fastjet were able to check my bags through to London but weren’t able to check me through so this did mean a painfully slow queue to check in but I didn’t really want to spend too long waiting in the departure lounge anyway.
Johannesburg airport has undergone major upgrades and expansion in the 20 years since I was last here. I was able to recognise the area where we waited 20 years ago due to its layout but nothing looked the same since there are a lot more shops and a lot more gates.
My flight appears to be on time, which is good, although it’s a night flight which I hate as I never sleep on them. Next stop Dubai Airport with Emirates.