FIRST IMPRESSIONS Air Namibia flies three times a week, direct to Windhoek (leaving from Gatwick on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday at 2130, arriving at 0745, and returning on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday departing 1940 and arriving at 0555). UK residents do not need a visa for Namibia for stays of three months or less. The flight departs from Gatwick's North terminal so I caught the shuttle train and was at check-in zone A early at 1900 for the 2130 departure. The business class desk already had a couple checking in so I went to the economy desk, which was clear, and requested a window seat. I was given a voucher and directions for the business class lounge and was told boarding would be at 2030.
THE LOUNGE I had to remove my shoes for security, and once airside I made my way to the Aviance Executive Lounge, which is to the left of WH Smith and down two flights of stairs (the lift was busy taking people elsewhere). The lounge is small with a low ceiling and windows down one side. There are blue and orange chairs, low coffee tables, and a small alcove with internet stations and a pile of papers and magazines. The bar had soft and alcoholic drinks but few snack options. A TV was showing the news. Flight announcements are not made in the lounge so I waited until 2030 and then went to check the gate. (By comparison, the lounge at Windhoek was very smart with an African feel, a serviced bar and sofas.)
BOARDING Gate 102 was a good ten-minute walk and when I got to the gate it was busy. Business class passengers were called forward first at around 9pm. The A340-300 has 234 economy seats (2-4-2) and 44 business class seats staggered in a 2-2-2 configuration. The cabin was half-empty but the two men in front of me were very animated, one of them removing his jeans in front of everyone to change into travelling trousers. He then reclined his seat all the way back (practically into my lap) and I was disappointed the crew did not ask him to raise it until just before take-off as I felt it was invading my space. Before take-off jackets were taken and we were given a menu and offered sparkling wine, fruit juice or water.
THE SEAT The seat is bucket-style with a pitch of 152.4cm and width of 70.4cm. It was very comfortable, if a little worn, and the controls were simple; I played around until I found a good position to eat and watch a film – the table extends out of the right armrest and the IFE screen out of the left, although mine was jammed so I used the one from the seat next to me, which actually gave me more space to eat. I found the selection of around four films on the IFE poor and as it was not AVOD I missed the beginning of most of the films. On the way back the films were the same and I was disappointed when the film I chose suddenly stopped about 20 minutes before the end with no explanation.
THE FLIGHT We pushed away from the gate at 2140 and were airborne by 2200, and the captain announced a flight time of nine hours and 45 minutes with a little turbulence over the equator. The amenity kit had socks, ear-plugs, eye-masks, mints, dental kit and a small mirror. Hot towels and bottled water were given out and meal orders were taken and we were served pre-dinner drinks and peanuts.
Dinner was served swiftly: smoked duck breast and Waldorf salad followed by either braised beef, halibut or chicken breast (which was good), all served with rice and seasonal vegetables, or pasta in béchamel sauce with a tomato coulis and sliced courgettes. For dessert there was double chocolate crunch with chocolate vanilla sauce, cheese, fresh fruit and tea and coffee. I was unimpressed with the IFE so reclined my chair and went to sleep – the full-size yellow pillows were wonderful and I slept very well, only waking when breakfast was about to be served an hour and a half before landing. I took the hot option and regretted it, wishing I had opted for the cold cuts and cheese, which looked very good.
ARRIVAL Arrival cards were handed out and we landed on time and walked across the tarmac to the terminal building. The bags took close to an hour to arrive and my priority tag did not seem to have made the slightest difference (the same was unfortunately true on the return journey). I went through passport control and was out into the small arrivals area by 0840.
VERDICT The flight times are convenient and the cost is a clear bonus as the service is direct. The seat was comfortable and I slept well but the IFE is not as advanced as other products on the market.
PRICE Return fares London to Windhoek: cusiness class from £1,527 and economy from £577. Prices for flights in mid-August.
CONTACT airnamibia.com.na; tel +44 (0)870 774 0965.