Tempting: Saint Helena Is Temporarily Getting More Flights

Filed Under: South African Airways

Saint Helena is a remote island in the South Atlantic Ocean, about 1,200 miles off the coast of Africa. The island is a British Overseas Territory, and is known as the place of Napoleon Bonaparte’s exile and death.

Up until recently it could only be reached by ship, so as you can probably imagine, it’s a pretty isolated place. For the past several years an airport has been under construction on the island, though scheduled commercial service at the airport was delayed significantly. The airport ended up getting commercial service in October 2017, about 18 months late and with a smaller plane than expected due to wind shear issues at the airport.

Presently Airlink operates a once weekly flight between Johannesburg and Jamestown, Saint Helena, using an Embraer 190. The westbound flight has a fuel stop in Windhoek, Namibia, while the eastbound flight is nonstop back to Johannesburg. Presently the flight operates on Saturdays, with the following schedule:

SA8131 Johannesburg to Windhoek departing 9:00AM arriving 11:00AM
SA8131 Windhoek to Jamestown departing 12:00PM arriving 1:15PM
SA8132 Jamestown to Johannesburg departing 2:30PM arriving 9:15PM

Do note that while Airlink is associated with South African Airways, unfortunately there’s no way to redeem Star Alliance miles on them. You can redeem South African Airways Voyager miles, though I’m guessing most people don’t have a sizable balance of that. So for most of us the only way to book the flight is to pay cash, and tickets aren’t cheap, at over 500USD in each direction, or over 1,000USD roundtrip (they don’t go on sale, but rather pricing seems to be mostly fixed).

I’ve been wanting to visit Saint Helena, partly because I’d be fascinated to see the island, and partly because I find this to be such a cool aviation geek route. It’s not the only remote Atlantic route I’m interested in, as I also really want to fly Azores Airlines from Ponta Delgada to Praia.

The problem is that I simply can’t justify spending a week on Saint Helena at this point. I don’t want to fly there and right back, but if I’m going to spend a week sightseeing somewhere, Saint Helena isn’t quite at the top of my list.

If anyone is like me and was put off from visiting due to needing to stay for a week, it’s worth noting that Airlink is temporarily increasing their flights between Johannesburg and Jamestown for peak season. Airlink is adding a midweek flight, which means you can now visit Saint Helena for three days, four days, or seven days.

Airlink announced that these increased frequencies are because many of their flights in December and January are already nearly full. They say that these increased frequencies will be available for December 2018 through April 2019, for a total of 19 additional roundtrip flights.

However, best I can tell, as of now they’ve only loaded these additional flights for December and January, as I don’t see the midweek flight in February and beyond. This was announced in May, so I’m not sure if they’ve rolled back the increased flights since then, or if they just haven’t gotten around to fully loading them yet.

Regardless, for anyone who has been considering traveling to Saint Helena but doesn’t want to go for a whole week, this does present a cool opportunity to visit for a few days. For example, here’s a roundtrip that’s available from Saturday through Tuesday, for a total of ~1,050USD (which is still really expensive, but…):

While I’m very tempted to book something like this, unfortunately my December and January are already quite full, so I don’t think I can swing it. If they extended this through April as they initially said they would I’d seriously consider it, though.

Also, while this is way beyond what most of us are likely to do, I should also mention that Airlink has a once monthly flight from Saint Helena to Wideawake Airfield in Ascension. That’s an 800+ mile flight even deeper into the Atlantic, and best I can tell there’s not even a hotel that’s open on the island. Besides, I’m guessing most of us wouldn’t be prepared to spend a month there, so…

That flight operates on the second Saturdays and Sundays, with the following schedule:

SA8135 Saint Helena to Ascension departing 2:30PM arriving 4:30PM [Sat]
SA8136 Ascension to Saint Helena departing 11:15AM arriving 1:15PM [Sun]

Come and think of it, since that flight is operated once monthly, I guess on that frequency you could actually fly from Johannesburg to Jamestown on a Saturday and return on a Sunday, giving you just over 24 hours there.

Has anyone visited Saint Helena, or considering doing so with Airlink’s increased frequencies?

(Tip of the hat to Tom)

  1. Keep in mind that landings are described and steep and fast and even experienced pilots (in the back) seem to be having second thoughts on a windy day. But for many that just adds to the adventure 🙂

  2. Lucky: if you are interested in visiting St Helena, you missed your chance to do it in the traditional way — by sailing from Cape Town on the Royal Mail Ship St Helena. I never did it but several friends did, and for them it was a fabulous adventure.
    Flying to St Helena on a regional jet just can’t compare.

  3. Do the planes stop in Windhoek on the way over in order to top off fuel so that if they can’t land they have enough to go back?

  4. Not true re: not being able to redeem *A miles on Airlink! I lived in South Africa for the first part of this year and redeemed between Mozambique and SA on Airlink nearly a dozen times using UA miles. Great value at 8k miles for shorter flights. I recall seeing some availability, though very far in advance, on the St. Helena route…

  5. Just do it – it’s a beautiful island. My friend I spent a month there in 2016, but we took the ocean shuttle from Cape Town.

  6. @Neil: Though I totally agree with you, I’m afraid it’s not the type of blog where you would find such a review 😉

    Think of it like this: Lucky travelling to some country and in some way is to give you a preview of that place. The in-depth review is more the airport/plane experience (and hotel of course but that not really my thing so I can’t judge).

    If you want to do a great boat trip, I recently heard very, very good returns on the Aranui Ferry experience that does the transport of merchandises between Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands. In French Polynesia. It also goes through the Tuamotus and Bora-Bora I think.

    Speaking of which, Lucky, if you read this comment by any chance, try going to Rangiroa when you go to French Polynesia, and doing the “Ile aux Récif”. It’s 1000x better than Bora-Bora 😉 And I think there are 2-3 hotels there.

  7. Business class doesn’t look cheap either, at ~$2000 USD roundtrip from just Saint Helena!
    Wonder how many miles it would take to redeem?

  8. St. Helena is extremely primitive for tourists, because of these connectivity problems. It is also, to put it politely, a small place where nearly everyone is family. Research carefully if you ever go.

  9. Marriott points can transfer to SA Voyager miles I think. I also think Hilton might. I’m sure the rate isn’t good but if you’re points rich it could work I would assume.

  10. This is good news, as a week in St Helena would be too much. I was flipping through a Bradt travel guide last summer titled “St. Helena, Ascension & Tristan da Cunha” and hope one day to be able to combine the three islands by starting in Jo’burg and ending in Brazil.

  11. Honestly a week would be just fine. If your going there your going to get away from it all. There was a Globetrekker episode on the boat going over and being there. If one is going to just say they have been there then a couple days should suffice. The flight cost is high in part because they do not fill up the flights. At least the initial flights were not full as they have to have enough fuel to fly around St. Helena Island for 2 hours if the winds are bad.

  12. I considered going to St. Helena and Tristan da Cunha before graduate school but didn’t have the chance or money. That was before flights so one had to block off about 2-3 months to go. Tristan is still isolated.

    I see that you don’t want to fly to St. Helena just to stay for an hour, which is a right decision. you must stay there longer. I strongly suspect that internet access is very limited and expensive. No free widespread wifi.

    Ascension Island’s runway has been closed for repairs but maybe it has been fixed?

    Oh, be very sure that you don’t have to reconfirm return flights from St. Helena and make sure you check in early. I was once in Easter Island and one couple did not come to the airport early. They were denied boarding due to overbooking. A native Easter Islander widely told me that I must check in 2 hours ahead of time because occasionally they would overbook and you would be stranded for a week (when there was only one flight per week).

  13. If St Helena is somewhere you have long wanted to visit then I would definitely recommend at least a week.
    The November – April period will give you a better chance of good weather. Our weather cycle is similar to South Africa which means we’re in our winter right now, which is no fun! Wet and windy.
    Here’s an idea of things you could do on a visit.

    Always a good idea to research and pre-organise as much as you can before coming, especially for things like dolphin trips that require numbers to make the trips viable.
    Good luck 🙂

  14. I’ve thought of this once-monthly 24-hour stay possibility, but so far, I’ve regarded the flights as to expensive for such a short stay. It would be an amazing experience to visit St Helena, but to stay there a full week would not sound like something I’d enjoy.

    Ascencion is not accessible to tourists. It’s a UK military base. I’d reckon it’s not possible to fly there without a special permit. Some commercial flights have diverted there occasionally, and in those cases they haven’t let the pax roam the island freely, either.

  15. I went to St. Helena for a week and wish I had stayed longer. One of the most wonderful places I have ever visited. I would not hesitate to return. Well worth a visit!

  16. Citi ThankYou points work which reduces the price by 20%. Bank of America travel rewards do not. I don’t have Chase UR at the time won’t didn’t check.

  17. ASI has a long and varied history, and claims to have been the busiest airfield in the world during the Falklands conflict. However you will need pre authorisation to go there and definitely watch out for our holes on the runway that prevent larger jets landing……….

  18. Royal Air Force flies to ASI from England Brize Norton Air Force Base and welcomes commercial passengers with some restrictions. You can then take the monthly mail ship to St. Helena.

  19. I really hope you decide to go! As a student of French literature and history, I’ve always been intrigued by the island and what it might be like there. Now that you’ve posted about it, it’s definitely on my list of places to visit.

    As for the rough landing, well…that just adds excitement, no?

  20. Tentatively planning a visit to St Helena from Singapore. It’s a bit far but I’ve done worse flights including the Falklands-Ascension-Brize Norton one that someone mentioned above. The “lounge” at Wideawake Field was pretty basic. A chain-link compound and a fridge full of Red Stripe.

    I was hoping for a 4 day stay in St Helena too but a week I think will be fine especially after flying all the way from SE Asia. I’ll let you know how it goes if I take the plunge. My other idea is SIN-NRT-GUM-TKK-PNI-KSA-KWA-MAJ-HNL-NRT-SIN but I reckon I’d be bored senseless even with one day stay on each island.

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