Africa, Blog, Guide, South Africa, Travel, Zambia

The Best Tips for Flying To and Within South Africa!

Traveling to Africa is no small feat. For international travelers flying into South Africa, it can take anywhere between ten to twenty hours or more! For most travelers, everyone flies to Africa to experience animals in their natural habitat, see the blue city of Morocco and experience the Arabian nights or to one of the Natural Wonders of the World, Victoria Falls. The reason people want to visit Africa are endless, but the one thing in common is flying there.

We just got back home to Washington D.C. last week after spending ten of the most wonderful nights of our lives in Africa. In those ten nights we flew eight times!!! We flew to and from Johannesburg, South Africa, within South Africa and Zambia. Therefore, we encountered a lot of flight and traveling situations unlike any we have ever experienced in our traveling careers. This post is to help all the world travelers flying to South Africa and other countries to/in Africa. Our tips are from our own experience in South Africa (at several airports) and Zambia.

So, before you do your happy dance…

Check out these tips that can help you on your next trip to Africa!


Make Copies of Your Passport

Before you leave home, make copies of your passport. When you arrive to your hotel keep your passport copy in the safe and your original passport with you at all times. You never know when someone will ask to see it and if anything bad were to happen, you will always have a backup.



Always Keep the Small Boarding Pass

Every airline in every country is different. For the United States, when we hand the flight clerk at the counter our ticket, they scan it and either give our ticket back to us, or they may keep it. Then we walk to the plane and find our seat and wait for take off. This is not the case in Africa. When you hand your ticket to the flight clerk at the counter they will rip off the ticket by the divider and hand back the smaller portion. Keep this small ticket with you all the way until you finally take your seat because they ask for it when you arrive at the plane. Then a flight attendant verifies it by looking at it and directing you to where your seat is. In some cases it is helpful on the big planes that have two rows, but in most other cases the plane is small and we really do not know what the purpose is.


Always Have Your Passport Ready

The same thing from above applies here. You are constantly asked to show your passport from security checkpoint one (sometimes again at another checkpoint), to when you hand your ticket and lastly when you board the plane. It is easier to just always hold your passport securely in your hand until you sit in your seat rather than putting it away and retrieving it constantly.


A Small Travel Document Holder Will Be Your Lifesaver

If we did not have our American Express travel document holder, we would have been a hot mess! It can be a small bag, pouch or folder. By day 4 in Africa we had about 8 previous tickets and a lot of documents that we needed to keep with us at all times, such as, insurance, yellow fever card and more. Having the document bag is great because it keeps everything in one place and you can easily keep it safe in your backpack when you do not need it.


Airport Lounges Will Become Your Best Friend

Every airport and terminal we were in had a lounge that we were able to use, including small airports like Kruger International Airport. Having access to airport lounges is awesome for budget travelers because every lounge has free Wi-Fi, food, drinks and yes, alcohol! We highly recommend the Priority Pass (get it for free with Chase Sapphire Reserve – click here to read how to get your card), we were able to use our pass at every airport. We really cannot stress how much of a lifesaver this was to us. We never had to struggle to find a seat in the terminal and never had to fight over an outlet to charge a device.


Arrive to the Airport 2 Hours Beforehand, No Matter What!

We were told one hour before is enough time, but we found ourselves always rushing and getting confused, ESPECIALLY at O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB). Even at Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport in Livingston, Zambia – a very small airport, we had to arrive two hours early. The airports themselves are not gigantic but the staff told us wrong directions several times at O.R. Tambo and nearly had us miss some flights. While at Harry Mwanga it took a long time to check in because the line was very long and they had very few staff members available. So, whether its a big or small airport, always arrive two hours beforehand – you never know what you can encounter.


When in Doubt, Trust Your Ticket

If your gate number changes before you arrive at your original gate, go to the original gate and ask the flight clerks if it really changed. We had two experiences when the TVs changed either our flight time or gate number, and both times the TV was wrong. We found ourselves running and sweating our way through airport terminals in utter panic that we would miss our boarding because our ticket said gate A14, but the TV said gate E20 – completely different directions. We also almost went back to our airport lounge when a TV displayed our flight was delayed, but after we asked a clerk, we learned that it was actually on time. Trust your ticket and then ask questions!


Turn Your Phone Off!

We are not sure what it is about flying in Africa, but nine times out of ten, we were asked to turn our phones completely off – airport mode was not acceptable. When the flight attendants announce to turn your phone off, DO IT! We experienced a traveler (sitting right behind us) and a flight attendant get into a riff because the traveler was not turning his phone off when asked. The flight attendant did not leave his sight and kept demanding he turn off his phone right there and then. It was really unnerving to see and hear it, so don’t make a scene, turn your phone off!


Disinfection Spray While Onboard

Do not be alarmed when the flight attendants go down the aisle spraying a disinfectant. They will warn you beforehand as they may go down the aisle more than once because they must spray an entire can. The disinfection spray is not a pleasant smell, so travelers are advised to cover their mouth. It is not harmful to humans, but strictly a protocol all airlines must abide by from the World Health Organization. “All International and Regional services operating in and out of the Republic of South Africa must be disinfected according to the “blocks away” method at the last point of call prior to leaving and entering South Africa (travelstart source).”


You Will Never Go Hungry!

With the exception of our flights to and from our lodge, we always received food! We are not talking about your small bag of pretzels or peanuts, we are talking about meals. Even on our flight from Johannesburg to Livingstone, which was only an 1 ½ hour flight, we were served a hot lunch meal. Christina is a picky eater and even she enjoyed the food (most of the time).



Drink Up!

ALL of our main flights offered complimentary wine! It was not cheap wine either, it was good South African wine. If you are not feeling like drinking wine, ask your flight attendant if they have mango-orange juice – it is so delicious!!!!


Goodbye Jetway, Hello Tarmac

For most of your flights, the plane will be parked on the tarmac. For the larger airports, after you hand your ticket to the flight clerk (remember to hold onto it), you will take a bus onto the tarmac and then walk up a flight of stairs to board the plane. After you land the same thing applies, walk down steps, board a bus and then you arrive at the airport terminal. For the smaller planes we sometimes walked out the doors and the plane was waiting just a few yards away from us on the tarmac. It was definitely a more unique way of boarding and departing a plane – it was a cool experience.


Expect Things to go Wrong

We either experienced a lot of bad luck, or this is normal when flying in Africa. Not including our flights to and from D.C. to Johannesburg, but four out of our six flights were always delayed because of various reasons. Christina has a co-worker from Liberia, Africa and she even said that everyone in Africa will always try and book direct flights because things always go wrong. Some things you cannot control, so just be aware that your flights may be delayed quite often.


Check With Your Smallest Aircraft For Their Luggage Protocol

As we stated early in this article, most travelers fly to Africa to enjoy safaris. With that being said, travelers often fly to main cities and then take smaller aircrafts to their respected airports near their safari game reserves. So, if you are flying within Africa, check with your airline’s baggage allowance, especially the smallest aircraft. We were only allowed one duffel bag each with no wheels and had to be smaller than 24 inches. Do not let your vacation be ruined because you cannot bring your suitcase full of your belongings on the plane!


Do Not Forget To Add Your Points!

We were able to receive points/miles for every flight we took. Every point and mile counts, so do not forget to add them to your account to go towards that free flight!


We hope these tips were helpful for you on your trip to Africa! We came across all of these without any prior information and wanted to help the next person to not have to go through any stressful situations we went through. If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to comment below or reach out to us personally.

Safe travels,




Travel, Uncategorized

Why We Love Flying With Southwest!

Southwest has always been one of our favorite and go-to airlines, but after two major flight fiasco recoveries by Southwest they have sealed themselves as our #1 favorite airline!

Adam Almost Missing his Bachelor Party Flight!!!!!

Adam thought that setting his alarm on vibrate was sufficient enough to wake him up. He was very wrong as he slept through his alarm for 4 hours! We woke a little over an hour after his original flight to St. Louis departed. Even disheveled, we were in complete panic mode. Adam was on his phone trying to find the cheapest flight from Dallas to St. Louis. As you can imagine, the prices were high! On the other hand, I was calling Southwest. Someone picked up the call fairly quickly and told me that if we made it to the ticketing desk two hours after his original flight took off, Adam could fly standby with no additional fees. I hung up the phone so fast after I said thank you and told Adam to grab his suitcase and get out the door!

For once I was allowed to drive as fast and safely as I wanted and managed to make a 30 minute drive in 20 minutes. Adam made it safely to the ticketing desk with eight minutes to spare. He even made it through security and onto the NEXT flight out to St. Louis within 40 minutes. Somehow, fate was with Adam that day.


In case you were wondering, even though he had a rough start, he ended up having a great bachelor weekend.

We love how Southwest has great policies in order to help their guests when they make a silly mistake. They understand that people make mistakes everyday. Instead of kicking us when we are down, they give us a second chance to catch our flights!

Christina Booking the Wrong Flight to her Girls Reunion!!!

When you book your flight do you check your confirmation email or do you feel confident that everything is okay? I typically feel confident, but will still take a quick look and make sure everything is okay. When it is a serious flight, say to Africa, I triple check, but a quick weekend getaway to Houston, Texas…..no I did not bother to check.

The story begins when my girl friends and I decided to have a reunion and do a girls weekend. Sounds perfect! Four out of the six of us all live in Texas, in fact they all live no more than three hours away – that is saying a lot since Texas is a huge state. Mary lives in Orange County, California, while I live in the Washington D.C. area. With that being said, I was helping Mary find Southwest flights while I had another tab open to find my own flight. When I went to purchase my flight everything was correct until I clicked purchase and my confirmation said Los Angeles to Houston! I quickly called Southwest and they changed my flight for Washington D.C. to Houston.

Fast forward to two months later, Adam and I were flying from St. Louis back to D.C. and had a layover in Atlanta. For weeks he had been asking, “what time do I need to drop you off at the airport”? As the stubborn woman I am, I would shrug him off and say we can check later. So, while we were grabbing dinner in our one hour Atlanta layover, two days before I am supposed to leave for Houston, Adam asks me again to check my flight. I finally obliged and when I went to my inbox I had an email from Southwest that read “check-in for your flight tomorrow”, I thought to myself, “well that cannot be right, my flight is in two days”. WRONG! I quickly learned that I rebooked my flight a day early. When I checked prices for the correct flight departure, the prices were astronomical! Uh-oh.

There were two things that needed to happen. One, I had to go to work the next day because I had already been gone for three days. Two, I had to make it to my girls reunion because I had not seen them in over a year. Frantically I called Southwest only to be placed on hold for 40 minutes. When they answered my flight was ready to take off, therefore I had to hang up. So for the next hour and a half in the air I was panicking because I was scheduled to leave for another flight in 6 hours.

When we landed I did the only thing I could think of – I went to Southwest’s baggage claim. A woman named Lana, asked if we needed help and I almost cried telling her my situation. The first words out of her mouth were, “oh I can change that flight for you with no charge”. I said, “what! You can”? We ended up going to the ticketing desk only to find that the computers were locked out and she couldn’t change my flight. Luckily, Lana did not take no for an answer, thank goodness. She said the computers would open at 4:15am and she would change my flight then. We exchanged numbers and I gave her a tip as a thank you, along with a hug as I almost broke down in tears.

At home I waited for her phone call, but it never came. So I called her, no answer. I waited five minuted then called again, no answer. Another five minutes I called and left a voicemail. At this moment I started to freak out again and called Southwest on Adam’s phone. They quickly picked up, but did not give me the answer I wanted to hear. They said it would cost me $300 extra to change my flight even though I told them Lana was changing it for free. This woman was not budging, but low and behold Lana called me on my cell! I placed the other woman on hold and answered Lana. She came through!!!! She told me she changed my flight, but it was not as direct flight anymore – I didn’t care! She apologized for not calling sooner, she had got tied up with other tasks, but told me that she ALWAYS keeps her word. Yes Lana, yes you do! I then placed Lana on hold to have the other woman online refresh my confirmation and she confirmed it had changed. We hung up and I thanked my flight savior Lana one last time. She told me that sometimes you just need the right person.

I truly got lucky in this situation and let me tell you…. I learned my lesson! I am no longer going to be stubborn and check my flight two days beforehand. I will check it immediately and weeks before my departure. Thank you Lana!


This initiative of Lana is why we love flying with Southwest. Southwest is known for being customer service orientated and they refer to it as Southwest LUV. I was also told by another Southwest representative that Lana has Southwest warrior spirit ability. They also explained that every agent is trained to have the authorization to make any changes to a reservation they see fit. If it makes sense, agents can make decisions out of gestures of good will. If agents are hesitant because they do not want to get in trouble, but want to make the change, then they can have someone consult the situation. Though my situation was based on my terrible mistake, Lana saw my dilemma and made a difference to change it. Will everyone get the same outcome, no, but at least you know that Southwest has great customer service that has the potential to resolve it.

Thank you Southwest for your awesome customer service and policies!


We think we should just stick to what we do best….travel with only each other!


If you would like to read more flight fiasco stories head over to our friend’s blog, The Traveling Teacher, for her post about Surviving Your Flight – Stories and Advice For Dealing With Airlines and Airports.

Who is your favorite airline and why? We would love to hear your story.