Bush Planes: A Mini-Bus in the Sky

Bush Planes: A Mini-Bus in the Sky

When you think of flying to and from the bush, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? A small plane flying from Point A to B, right? Well, this is mostly the case.

What an adventure it was for my first bush plane experience!

For clarification, the “Bush” is the wilderness, being out in the middle of nowhere, or a somewhere that is only known by a few local villages and camps. By camps, I mean tented accommodations, or lodges, some are luxury, many are not.

So, in these areas, there are planes that fly close to the camps, but you are not landing at airports per se. In the African bush, there are airstrips and landing fields, and are not for your faint of heart. There may be a building for you to chill before your flight or just a covered gazebo. The washroom (toilet) will be basic, and not all have toilet paper. (Ladies, make sure you bring some tissues, just in case!)

My first bush plane flight was from Lake Manyara to Seronera in Tanzania. I thought I was going to get on a plane and go straight to my destination. Instead, here’s what happened.

My chariot awaits!
My chariot awaits!

The plane arrived about an hour late (this is normal) and there were already many people on the plane. The pilot jumped out, introduced himself and escorted me to the back where there were steps to climb onto the plane. I greeted my fellow passengers and took a seat in the back, since most seats up front were taken, and passengers were asleep.

The aircraft had seating for approximately 12 passengers. Single seats on the left, double bench seats on the right. There were two couples and one family, plus me, on this flight, but we were all going to different places. 

Before I had time to integrate all that was happening, the door closed behind me, the pilot got in his seat, turned around to give me a quick safety briefing before starting the plane, and prepared to take off again.

The interior seating of all the bush planes I flew!
The interior seating of all the bush planes I flew!

We were airborne for about ten minutes before landing to drop off one of the couples. We took off again for about twenty-five minutes before landing to drop off the other couple. At another stop, we picked up three passengers, and then finally about an hour and a half later, I and the family arrived at our destination.

Each take-off and landing was quite thrilling. Because you are in the wild, many animals can be seen from the plane. On one of the landings, we had to circle because there were wildebeest on the landing strip. Typically, some locals monitor the area of the landing strip to ensure no animals will be caught in the landing or hit by a plane. Thankfully, on all my departures and landings, no animals were hurt.

As I was leaving the plane, there were four people about to board the small aircraft to return from where I started. And thus, the cycle begins again.

The views from bush planes can be especially delightful! Here we were flying over The Masai Mara!
The views from bush planes can be especially delightful! Here we were flying over The Masai Mara!

I had four bush plane flights between my accommodations in Tanzania and Kenya. There was only one flight where I was the only passenger, and I loved my experience as I had a female pilot, Liz, to chat with for my short 30min flight. She was cool, and even let me take the controls for a quick minute! (I was actually scared to be handling the plane, so I relinquished my role quickly after this photo below was taken.)

Me and Pilot Liz!
Me and Pilot Liz!

Flying in a bush plane was truly an adventure and felt like a mini-school bus in the sky. Pick up, drop off, and keep going. Everyone was friendly, and it’s a most interesting experience!

For all the newbies out there, here are some Tips to flying on Bush Planes:

  1. There are no toilets, so use the washroom before you leave.
  2. There is air conditioning, but it is minimal. Dress in layers if you are coming from somewhere cool or cold.
  3. Many planes have water in a cooler in the back, ask if you need. (But as noted in number one, drink cautiously.)
  4. There is not much legroom/space for personal luggage on the plane. Bring your camera and a small purse.
  5. Weight restrictions are to 15KG, but most locations do not have a scale to weigh your bags. If your bag looks or feels exceedingly heavy, you may need to pay a fee.
  6. While soft-sided bags without wheels may be best for the small luggage stowage area, wheels will come in quite handy. Just recognize that no matter what color or material, your bags will be dusty/dirty no matter where you travel.
  7. Very rarely are the flights on time. Be prepared to wait, or even leave early.
  8. Bring ziplock bags just in case you get air sickness. The planes are small, and you may be up/down/up/down a few times before arriving at your destination. There are typically air sickness bags in the seat pockets, but just in case, bring your own.

Regardless, enjoy! It’s a unique experience to compliment your Safari Adventure!

Until next time, thanks for reading & Happy Travels!

BONUS: Check out this fun bush plane landing, complete with animals scurrying from the landing strip!

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