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First impressions of the relaunched Zambia Airways 2.0

29 December 2021

ONGOLO Founder, Muloongo Muchelemba, is keen to support African airlines so that they can become the default choice for African travellers. However, this support must be earned, with airlines keen to receive and act on feedback from customers. This unsolicited review was submitted by an ONGOLO subscriber and recent passenger on Zambia Airways, who asked to remain anonymous.

I was excited to fly Zambia Airways 2.0, which was relaunched on 1 December 2021, more than 27 years after its predecessor was liquidated. Zambia has few domestic carriers and there is little competition, which makes for costly travel and time restrictions. What I look for in an airline is safety and cleanliness of the aircraft, courteous staff, and efficient travel. I would define efficient travel as ‘on time’ travel with good communication, easy access to information, notice if there are going to be delays or changes to the schedule, and an airline that strictly follows COVID-19 protocols.

Generally, when a new product comes onto the market, companies make every attempt to put their best foot forward. Zambia Airways 2.0 currently has the most competitive rates on the market, offering return tickets between the capital, Lusaka, and the main airport on the Copperbelt, Ndola, at the bargain price of $100 per person. That is one-third the price offered by domestic market leader, Proflight, who are charging $300 return for the same route. At these affordable rates, my husband and I decided to fly instead of making the long drive on terrible roads during the rainy season.

Our first experience of poor customer service was prior to the outbound trip when I had a question about our luggage allowance. I called the Lusaka office several times, but no one answered. I was fortunate to get through to the Ndola office and got the information I needed. The outbound flight was uneventful. We were only a few minutes late leaving Lusaka and arrived on schedule at the newly opened Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport in Ndola. It took a while to get our luggage and entertained ourselves by watching the luggage on the belt. The checked truck tyre, followed by the checked single umbrella really had me rolling! I guess the airline thought the umbrella could have been used as a weapon of some sort.

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Zambian Airways promotions during the month of December 2021 included the promise to always [be] on time

Our return flight was rather unpleasant. We arrived at the airport at 16:45 for an 18:15 departure. We returned our rental car, cleared security, and were the first people in the waiting area to board by 17:15. Thirty minutes later, there was still no sign of the Zambia Airways staff or plane. We patiently waited and our departure time of 18:15 came and went. They started boarding the 18:40 Proflight plane, and we – the bargain travellers - were still waiting. There was no communication and no apology for the delay. The people around me started saying, “What do you expect? Zambia Airways equals Zambian time”.

We eventually boarded the flight before 19:00 and sat at the front of the plane. We were thankful that we did not have any hand luggage to store above our seats because the plane was like an oven. People were trying to turn on the air, but the air vents didn’t work. The plane, which I failed to mention earlier, is dingy and looks tattered. The small pieces of fabric on the headrests are frayed and not hemmed, which makes the plane look unkept. The branding on the exterior of the plane says Zambia Airways, but inside things such as the safety cards are branded as Ethiopian Airlines. There were even two people on our flight wearing Ethiopian Airlines uniforms. First impressions are important. Doing things halfway and not taking the time to properly present your product is the first clue that you are not concerned about your customers. 

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The Zambia Airways seat covers

We didn’t land in Lusaka until 1945. Then to top it all off, they crammed all the passengers onto a bus, not adhering to COVID protocols at all. We sat on the bus for a good fifteen minutes while they loaded every passenger from the flight. There were five ground crew and Zambia Airways staff within five metres of the bus, and not one person assisted an frail, elderly gentleman to get on. We made the long 100-metre journey to the terminal where we stood like sardines in a can waiting for our luggage. The ground crews played on their phones instead of asking people to space out and observe COVID protocols. My husband and I spotted the elderly gentleman and his wife standing outside the waiting area, and no one from the airline bothered to get him a wheelchair. We took it up on ourselves to hunt one down and assist them with their luggage.

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Feedback on the company's Facebook page is consistent about the lack of response.

This experience told me a few things. If we are going to take on the responsibility to have a national airline, shouldn’t we also be responsible to run it well? Excellent customer service should be at the top of the mission statement for any airline and there should be a semblance of national pride that permeates through the organisation and the customer experience. What we have is the classic work ethic of doing the bare minimum, poor customer service and no effort to communicate with customers. We all want Zambia Airways 2.0 to succeed but they have a lot of work to do.

Zambia Airways is 51% owned by the Zambian government and 49% owned by Ethiopian Airlines. It operates domestic flights to Ndola and Livingstone and international flights (operated by Ethiopian Airlines) to Harare, Kinshasa, Nairobi, Mombasa and Addis Ababa.



2 comments on “First impressions of the relaunched Zambia Airways 2.0”

  1. Great write up. But ZA is a failure on a policy level before anything else.

    The Malawian Government set up a identical model with Ethiopian Airlines in 2014. 7 years later they are still losing money hand over fist. It's a poor business model. Government simply crowding out the private sector and throwing public funds onto a bonfire. We have not learned from the past.

  2. Thank you for sharing this article ! I had many serious reservations about the launch of the airline by the new Dawn government and the new minister owning the decision to go ahead without any explanation as to what appeared to cause what appeared to be reversal in the UPND administration’s position on the matter! When you label something National we are saying this represents us in its conduct of business, the values, attitude and capabilities of its peoples. In this case is Zambia Airways represents every Zambian ! The airline has been launched but seriously let’s quickly get the powers that be to fix whatever the agreement they found and restructure and fix it quickly ! If we care about how our national sports team are kitted and perform, how much more our national airline ! First impressions are lasting impression ! Zambia has rebranded its global imagine - please don’t let the way the national airline operates be the fly in the oil of new Dawn government for first time visitors and would be donors/ financiers ! If we are having problems with one plane and it’s domestic how much more when we have more planes and go regional ! It’s not too late in the game to get it fixed bwana Minister of transport !

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