MARK'S (NOT SO) DAILY BLOG
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My trip little trip to Margate: A comedy of errors

We all know about the larger airlines such as SAA, BA, Kulula and Mango. But did you know there are also smaller operators flying people around South Africa? For example, last Friday a television crew and myself flew from OR Tambo to King Shaka Airport in Umhlanga via SAFAIR (www.flysafair.co.za). They are a budget airline with impeccable service, hardly ever any delays... and a friendly smile. They were also about 40% cheaper than the other airlines going to Durban on the same day. I highly recommend them.

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And then there's another small airline specialising in flying to the smaller airports like Plettenberg Bay, George and Margate called CemAir (www.flycemair.co.za). And this is where the review gets a little muddy. You see, I had the most amazing experience flying TO Margate on Monday, and the WORST experience flying back to Johannesburg later that same night.

Let's start with the the nice trip. First of all, there is never a long queue because the CemAir Dash 8 plane can only take 37 or so passengers at a time.

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Everyone, from the checkin staff to the pilot were really friendly. Here's our welcoming committee on the tarmac:

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Service on the plane was pleasant and we were offered a sandwich and refreshments.

When we landed in Margate it was an overcast day and we managed to film a few TV links when the drizzle abated:

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But the rain came back and so did the low cloud cover. This caused an issue for our flight back as Margate airport is not certified for instrument landings, which means if the pilot can't see the runway he cannot land there.

Our return plane to Johannesburg was a Beechcraft 1900. It's a much smaller plane that only has 19 seats. There were 7 of us in total waiting at the airport, listening to the plane do fly-bys overhead but not able to land.

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And so, after those two fly-bys, we got the news that the plane that was supposed to land and pick us up was being diverted to Durban. We all sighed, but understood that it was out of everyone's control. But this is where things started going a little wonky.

Cemair staff told us that a shuttle would arrive shortly to collect us from Margate airport and drive us (about 1 hour 40 minutes) to Durban. Despite reassurances that the shuttle was "around the corner", it took an hour to arrive. And then the ride of hell began. I can only surmise the driver (who looked like he had just spent the day fishing off the South coast) was was told to get to Durban ASAP to reduce the additional costs the airline was incurring by parking at King Shaka airport. Either that or we really did interrupt his fishing and he was rushing to get back to his bait and rod. It was a reckless drive that made all of us age a few years and also almost get car sick.

When we got to King Shaka airport it was as if we had entered a twilight zone where an apocalypse had wiped away every living soul. It was eerily empty and CLOSED!

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There was nobody at any check-in counter and security had already closed the gates where you normally get scanned. And this is the gripe I have with CemAir and ACSA. The airline KNEW we were coming (and probably a little grumpy) so why did they not have all the systems in place when we got there? After arguing with a security supervisor, telling him that our plane was waiting for us on the tarmac, he told us he could not let us through unless WE PHONED THE PILOT for authorisation! What a moron. He could simply have said that we needed boarding passes and he would make a few calls to get someone here that knew what was going on.

After about 15 minutes a ground crew member appeared out of the woodwork and sauntered over to try and sort things out. The security scanner was manned and we were about to go through when the ACSA staff member said our hand written tickets were not reflecting on the system. Of course they weren't...they were hand written! It took another 10 minutes of arguing before a more efficient staff member told her to stop being stupid and just do a head count, scan us, and let us through.

We made it to the departure gate!

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Except, all the bus drivers had already finished for the night and we waited 30 minutes at an empty gate, not able to get to the plane on the tarmac! Surely CemAir had notified ACSA and done the necessary arrangements? This couldn't have been the first time a plane had an unscheduled stop there because of rain in Margate?

After that long wait a driver was found and a VIP combi pulled up and the 7 of us climbed aboard:

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You would think that after all this drama, the worst was over. You would be sadly mistaken.

After driving between the planes on the tarmac for almost 25 minutes, the ground staff member opened the side door of the combi and announced that "regrettably they had lost the plane":

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Eish.

We did eventually find the plane. It happened to be one we had stopped alongside earlier. Why did the pilots not come out and confirm it was the right plane? Possibly they were napping in the cockpit?

We loaded the plane ourselves...

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And then boarded the plane...

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Service was non-existent. The dishevelled pilot mumbled that there were not enough sandwiches aboard the plane and some of us would go without dinner (considering we had been waiting for our original flight since 5pm and had not had a chance to eat anything... and it was now 10.50pm).

A passenger then kindly acted as a flight attendant and dished out water that was in a cooler box:

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We landed at OR Tambo airport at 12.10am at which time the cemair pilot told us to "enjoy our evening". Did he think we were all about to go partying at a friggin' nightclub?

And then the cherry on the top was, because I was way too late for the last Gautrain back to Sandton, not only could I not use their service, but it also meant my car was locked in their underground parking and I could not get it until the next day.

An expensive taxi ride home and I got to sleep at 1.30am.

So the simple point is this. Will I ever fly Cemair again?
If I base it on the outgoing flight... absolutely.
If I base it on the return trip... not a chance in hell.




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