Thursday, June 5, 2014

Trip Report: Precision Air - Dar Es Salaam to Zanzibar (December 2013)

    Trip Report: Precision Air, Dar Es Salaam to Zanzibar

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We were travelling in Tanzania and needed to get from Dar Es Salaam (DAR) to Zanzibar (ZNZ).  There are ferries that cross daily between the city and the island and operate many times during the day.  I have had friends take them and say they are perfectly fine, but a) I have heard too many stories of overloading on the boats; b) the water is very rough naturally and if its the rainy season (as it was when we went there in late December) than the water gets even more rough; and c) why take the chances when you can take a 15-minute flight. Having said that about the ferries, the airlines also don't have the best reputation for safety or timeliness; however, based on the research I did, the people I talked to, and my family's preference, we choose to fly.  

I booked my flight online through Precision Air.  Precision Air is a Tanzanian-based airline that flies to many destinations within Tanzania, and to other African countries in partnership with Kenya Airways (Kenya Airways owns 49% of Precision Air).  While they do have fares and schedules available online, the website is not the most user-friendly, does not look trustworthy, and requires patience and perseverance to navigate and complete your transactions.  After I booked my flight online, I emailed Precision Air to confirm the booking and they responded very quickly.  I was very impressed with their response times to emails and their customer service in this aspect.  After I had booked my travel, I needed to make a change to the flight and that was done free of cost (Precision Air offers a one-time, free of charge, booking change) and all through email and received the confirmations.  Very efficient.

I had a couple of days in DAR after my international flight and before my flight to ZNZ, and even though I had the confirmation emails, I noticed that at DAR airport Precision Air has a stall (outside the immigration and security when you exit the doors).  I went to the stall to confirm my booking and to ensure the flight was online (Precision Air was known to have some timeliness issues).  I was assured that my flights were confirmed and everything was on time, and was told to be at the airport 3-hours in advance.  Precision Air does have multiple flights a day to Zanzibar, but they are not as frequent and are scattered throughout the day so if you have an international connection, I would plan accordingly.

On the day of the flight, we arrived at the airport 3-hours in advance but there was nobody at the counter.  We waited and 2-hours prior to departure the counters opened and we checked in and received our boarding passes.  I did notice that a lot of the passengers who were flying were connecting passengers; i.e passengers who had just come off of an international flight and were connecting to Zanzibar on Precision Air and all via one-ticket.  We proceeded up to the domestic waiting lounges and waited for our flight (we had about 1.5 hour to wait).  

the plane @ ZNZ
There is not a lot to do at DAR airport.  The domestic side has a lot of seats in the middle and then the doors to the gates against the wall.  In the back of the chairs is a cafe/coffee shop, but that was about it (the international side wasn't much better, and to read about that, check out the post on kenya airways).  Mainly you just sit and wait, and do some plane-spotting. 

There are about 3 or 4 Tanzania-based airlines which fly around the country (and sometimes to other parts of the continent) and the one that has gotten most of the attention is 'fastjet', the startup founded by easyjet's stelios.  fastjet does fly to zanzibar, but not from DAR to ZNZ.  From DAR it flies to some northern cities, but mainly to other cities within the continent (very inexpensive fares to South Africa). 

About 30 mins prior to the departure time, we were called for boarding.  It was a little haphazard and there was no boarding announcement; they just opened the door to the gate which is was supposed to go through and people just started going through.  

entrance via the rear of the plane
The plane is a turboprop and you enter from the rear of the plane (the front of the plane has no entrance).  Boarding went fine and we were all seated and ready to go by the scheduled departure time.

The seats on the plane were generally comfortable and the pitch was pretty decent (I am 6'1 and I did not have an issue).  As it is a small plane, there is not a lot of storage space up top or underneath your seat, so keep that in mind.  

The flying time to ZNZ is 15-minutes, yep, 15 minutes so there was really no time to experience the service of Precision Air.  When we landed at ZNZ, some passengers got off while others were continuing on.  Precision Air usually does a loop so it goes from DAR to ZNZ to NBO and back to DAR; or DAR to ZNZ to another African city and then back to DAR - it picks up passengers at each stop (if you are on the first stop, very convenient, but if you are on the last stop then very inconvenient).  We landed at ZNZ on time and were let out on the runway to walk to the airport.  

For our return, we needed to change our flight again so we went to the Precision Air office in Zanzibar city (near Muzammil building with all the other airline offices) to change our flight.  The wait time was somewhat lengthy, but the agent was very nice and easily helped us change our flight (for a fee this time since this was our second change, the first is free and the second costs money - not that much though; about $30 for 3 passengers).  The return flight went equally smoothly and there were already passengers on board from Precision Air's earlier leg.  

baggage pick-up @ ZNZ
Overall, the price was pretty good, the plane was nice and in working order and it was a 15-minute flight which I am glad I choose (when we got to Zanzibar, we were told that due to the rainy season the waters had been extremely choppy so many ferry services were cancelled for days).  Yes there can be delays and there can be issues (there was an in-flight magazine with a letter from the Airline's CEO which detailed the financial trouble the airline was in and how it had to return two boeing planes, which it had required for expansion outside the country, which it is no longer doing).   Having said all that, the flight was smooth, it was fast and efficient, and it was a decent price so what more can you ask for :)

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