From Pietermaritzburg to Johannesburg we flew on Airlink, the only game in town. Even with a monopoly on the route and a small ERJ-135 regional jet, the carrier really impressed me.
Airlink ERJ-135 Economy Class Review
With South African Airways still struggling, Airlink (unofficially of course) has emerged as a flag carrier. Safair holds the plurality of domestic market share at 42%, while Airlink operates 16% (compared to 7% for South African Airways). Internationally, however, Airlink is growing with flights to 13 African nations as well as St. Helena (UK). When Comair folded, Airlink (among others) also quickly stepped in to fill the gap.
All that to say, Airlink is no longer just a shadow partner of South African Airways but has emerged as its own brand and become a force to be reckoned with.
I tried to book the ticket on Airlink’s website, but annoyingly it would not accept my U.S. credit card. There was only one seat left on my flight and every time I attempted to book it, the transaction would fail but the seat would be taken out of inventory for about 30 minutes.
After three failed attempts (with three different credit cards), I just booked it on Orbitz. My ticket was $152, again so expensive because I waited until the last minute to book it.
Airlink Partnership With United Airlines
I was happy to earn United Airlines MileagePlus miles on this flight and there was even a space in Airlink mobile app (otherwise a nice app) to add my United number. However, the miles (a whopping 276 miles…) never posted (and now several months have elapsed). Unless something changed recently, there is also no link on united.com to request credit for Airlink flights, perhaps because the partnership is (relatively) new.
As I mentioned in my review of the Pietermaritzburg Aero Club, we showed up at the airport about 2.5 hours before the flight…and had it ourselves. Yes, the whole thing. It was a ghost town:
About an hour before the flight we returned and my colleagues were able to check in their bags. Airlink was very strict about baggage weight; one colleague was a few pounds over the limit and had to move some contents into his hand baggage.
After proceeding through security, we found ourselves in a gate area with restrooms but no concessionaires.
Finally, boarding was called about 5:50 pm.
Airlink (4Z) 744
Pietermaritzburg (PZB) – Johannesburg (JNB)
Wednesday, July 20
Depart: 6:10 PM
Arrive: 7:15 PM
Duration: 01 hr, 05 min
Distance: 276 miles
Aircraft: Embraer ERJ-135
Seat: 9C (Economy Class – Single Cabin)
There are no jetbridges in Pietermaritzburg, which sees only four flights per day. Instead, we walked out to the aircraft and boarded via the plane’s built-in stairs.
I used to fly this aircraft type almost every Thursday evening or Friday morning from Philadelphia (PHL) to Washington (IAD) during law school on United Express, the start of my weekend journey home. It’s not my favorite airplane, but I like 1-2 seating and spacious row nine, where I snagged a seat, much more than the smallest 50-seat Canadair regional jets.
There are only 37 seats onboard, each well-padded with 31 inches of legroom and 3º recline. There are no power ports or individual air vents.
Food + Drink
Despite the short length of the flight and every seat being taken, a flight attendant sprung up to offer beverages and a snack shortly after takeoff. In an efficient fashion, she managed to work her way through the cabin just ahead of the captain announcing our descent into J’berg.
I ordered sparkling water and bag of mixed nuts. The other snack choices were peanuts and cookies. I was impressed by the large bag and would love to see something like this on the many short United flights I take that only offer a biscoff cookie or pretzels.
Beer and wine were also complimentary.
Wi-FI + IFE
No in-flight-entertainment or Wi-Fi internet is available onboard.
A single lavatory is located in the rear of the aircraft. I did not get up to use it due to the short duration of the flight and the fact that my seatmate seated in the aisle seat was enjoying a glass of wine and I did not want to risk tipping it over.
We landed on-time in JNB and I thought the flight went perfectly. I enjoyed some nuts and a beverage, closed my eyes a bit, and woke up in JNB. For a couple days the flight was sold out and I had considered going back myself to Durban to fly to JNB, where flights were plentiful. I am glad this worked out in the end.
My only complaint is that Airlink should update its website booking system to accept foreign credit cards.
I look forward to flying Airlink again and trying business class on a longer route.