Incomplete Madagascar

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Flights

As there's some degree of variety and choice for international airlines, the flights in and out of the country tend to be a more predictable and familiar experience. Internally, I'm not going to sugar-coat the conclusion that you may ultimately arrive at: domestic flights in Madagascar are a frustrating experience.

Madagascar can be a challenging country to traverse long distances if you don't have a lot of time, an ability to accommodate delays, and a bullheaded acceptance of risks on certain longer, overnight roads. Most national routes are not maintained to a level that can address all of these issues.

For a tourist, time and unexpected delays are typically factors they cannot compromise on, which rules out many otherwise viable destinations. If fortunate enough to have the budget to do so, larger cities can be reached via scheduled internal flights though be prepared to pay a surprising amount for the privilege. For information particular to flying into or out of Tana, see the ‘Ivato Airport’ and ‘Getting Around’ sections on the Antananarivo page.

International Flights

Thanks to recent route expansions by Ethiopian Airlines and Turkish Airlines, reaching Madagascar is now more affordable at around [EUR680 - 800], all inclusive, for a return economy trip to Tana from many European cities via layovers. This is still far from cheap but considerably better than the [EUR1100] I was familiar with for the same trip in 2013. Now anyone who can reach Istanbul or Addis Ababa in one flight (more than you think) can get to Tana in two, on top of the other cities that already fly direct.

Some cities in Madagascar cater to occasional international routes from nearby countries but many schedules have come and gone with demand and economical fluctuations. It may be worth checking on Air Madagascar's site to see if the city you're visiting has a route via another country (usually one of its island neighbours) and skip Antananarivo if it's not on your itinerary. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, it's not obvious what flights are direct when searching, meaning you'll have to wade through a few pages of booking before confirming if the flight has a layover in the capital.

Currently Air Madagascar has scheduled international flights to most of its surrounding island neighbours, France (Paris and Marseille), and China (Guangzhou). All, at the very least, serve Antananarivo directly. It comes as a surprise to some that they don't service any cities in mainland Africa as previously they've had routes to Nairobi and Johannesburg. Some of the larger African carriers take up the slack these days and fly direct to Antananarivo via a few of the more prominent African hubs such as the aforementioned cities in Kenya and South Africa, as well as Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.

Internal Domestic Flights

There are currently two airlines running scheduled internal flights in Madagascar: Tsaradia and Madagasikara Airways. Tsaradia is a subsidiary of Air Madagascar and they repainted some of their planes with the new brand at the end of 2018. I believe the goal is to manage Air Madagascar's national and international flights semi-autonomously from each other but there's currently some overlap which can be a little confusing. You could still find yourself boarding an Air Madagascar branded plane internally, despite booking Tsaradia and vice-versa.

You will very likely be flying with Tsaradia as the timing of flights for Madagasikara Airways can be erratic. Well, so can Tsaradia, but in an entirely different way. Are you sensing the frustration I mentioned?

Tsaradia

Prior to the changeover to Tsaradia, Madagascar's national airline offered internal flights at an eye-watering average of [EUR475] for return economy to the majority of the country's city airports throughout the year. Thankfully, the rebranding has seen a significant price drop and I've seen return flights from the capital in economy as low as [EUR140] if you have flexibility with dates.

When booking, there's a good reason for providing both your contact number and that of a nominated individual. The schedules change—frequently—and you will be contacted in such cases to inform of the change. With this in mind, I'll pass on two precautions I was advised to stick to on my first visit:

Never book a flight scheduled to leave on the same day as another arriving and always contact the airline on the day of the flight to confirm the schedule if you haven't heard from them.

Allowing a day between flying into a city and flying out provides relief against rushing to the next flight only to find it's delayed until later. It also provides a buffer against the flight being brought ahead earlier, which does happen, despite the inevitable chaos this may cause passengers. I am genuinely fascinated at what the deciding force in these frequent scheduling changes is and how it is enough to warrant the potential of filling a plane entirely with seething, tired passengers.

Some flights have pre-announced layovers and some (very occasionally) are unannounced until the day of the flight. On one direct flight to Tulear from Fort Dauphin it was announced we would be flying all the way up to Tana first, then coming back down to Tulear, making the journey about [1300km] in total rather than the briefer [380km] we were expecting.

The high prices do not absorb luggage allowance as it's restricted to a single checked bag of 20kg. Most tourists flying into the country will have flown with a checked allowance of 2 x 23kg bags, even in economy, as it is quite standard on long-haul carriers into African cities. This creates a dilemma where they may consider foregoing the extra baggage offered to them for their journey into Madagascar, or pay fines for each internal flight they take.

On a positive note, all of the air stewards and pilots I've met during my flights onboard have been nothing but warm and accommodating. I'll also add that many of the staff have a heart and are not always ruthless with overweight charges. As with many carriers, it's a gamble. There's fewer countries more beautiful from the air so make sure you leave any frustrations in the airport once you take off and enjoy what's out the window.

Tsaradia Routes from Tana (Going both ways)

DepartingArrivingFrequency
Tana (TNR)Diego Suarez / Antsiranana (DIE)Daily
Tana (TNR)Fort Dauphin / Tolagnaro (FTU)Daily
Tana (TNR)Mahajanga (MJN)5 a week
Tana (TNR)Maroantsetra (WMN)5 a week
Tana (TNR)Nosy Be (NOS)Daily
Tana (TNR)Morondava (MOQ)3 a week
Tana (TNR)Sainte-Marie (SMS)6 a week
Tana (TNR)Sambava (SVB)Daily
Tana (TNR)Tulear / Toliara (TLE)6 a week
Tana (TNR)Tamatave / Toamasina (TMM)Daily

Note that the frequency of these routes can change throughout the year, in either direction, but nothing drastic so expect the frequency above to be what you find. Most people will need to fly via Tana to get from one city to another by plane but there are some other inter-city routes available at times. Check with Tsaradia to confirm via their online booking system, which will highlight if routes are available.

Madagasikara Airways

Back in 2014, Madagasikara Airways were welcomed with open arms by those seeking competition in the country's airline monopoly. Inevitably they priced themselves cheaper than their rival and offered similar routes. Their small fleet of planes means their scheduling is more sparse and they're not as prominent in any of the airports. I have little idea of how well they adhere to scheduled departures or how they are in flight as I've never flown with them. I've tried but could never find a flight schedule remotely close to my own.

There were times where I could find a departing flight near a suitable date but the next return flight (highlighted in green on their online calendar) might be many weeks after it rather than the single week I need.

As an example, at the time of writing their next available flight from Tana to Fort Dauphin is two and half months away from today, with two flights scheduled within two days of each other. The next flight available to make the return journey back to Tana is two months after those dates. I have absolutely no idea how this schedule is created or if it's open to the public as a secondary thought to a more significant reason that it's flying on these dates (such as the plane being chartered for a tour/research group that only occupies half the available seating).

It does appear that a few route schedules are now being coerced into a more regular frequency and an appropriate booking may just about be possible if the stars align correctly. On that hope alone, it's certainly worth checking before deciding which airline you're flying with. Madagasikara Airways only allow a single 18kg bag of checked luggage but, as their planes are some of the smallest commercial planes flying, there's little chance of an increase at this size. Return flights tend to average at about [EUR360] in economy though the belated competition from Tsaradia's lower pricing may see a revision of this in the future.