Trans Maldivian Airways 533, MLE – Miriandhoo

M8 533

MLE – Miriandhoo

de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter Seaplane

Economy Class, Free Seating

 

Prologue

Blessed with sandy tropical islands ringed by crystal clear waters, the Maldives is a dream holiday destination for many travellers seeking a luxurious beach break at the many resorts dotted around the country. With an area of approximately 90,000 kilometers to cover, seaplanes offer a practical and unique means of inter-island travel. Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA) is the largest seaplane operator in the Maldives (and the world), operating a fleet of de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter seaplanes for transfer flights between the country’s outlying atolls and the capital Male. Often cited as one of the most memorable moments in a Maldivian holiday, we had the opportunity to fly with them on our recent visit to The Westin Maldives Miriandhoo Resort.

 

Check-In

 

Our flights were arranged by the resort as part of the booking and we were met by the Westin’s airport representative at Velana International Airport in the early hours of the morning after our overnight layover in Hulhumale, who escorted us to the Trans Maldivian Airways check-in desks. TMA flies to over 80 resorts dotted across the country and we could not help but gaze at the network map adorning the wall, while the ground staff went about issuing our boarding passes, weighing and tagging the bags. Formalities completed, we were next ushered to our private van for the short drive to the seaplane terminal.

 

Lounge & Ground Service

 

 

The seaplane terminal is located on the far side of Velana International Airport and is where most resorts have their private or shared lounges. Having opened only recently at the time of our visit, The Westin’s lounge was not yet ready and we were escorted to TMA’s lounge for refreshments before the flight. The offering here was definitely basic compared to some of the resort-operated facilities and consisted of a large room set up with armchairs, a small buffet and a literature/media corner. Ours was one of the first flights of the day and the staff were in the midst of setting up for breakfast service, with several items still missing from the buffet. Nonetheless we were able to have a quick breakfast of coffee and toast during our twenty-minute stay before boarding was called.

 

Boarding & Departure

 

Adjacent to the lounge is the seaplane terminal’s sole boarding gate where we bade the Westin representative farewell and waited for boarding. The window-framed room overlooked the flightline and aircraft being prepared as dawn broke outside. Seaplane operations in the Maldives are permitted only in daylight and flights are scheduled depending on the bookings for the day. As we took in the view, our flight was called to board and the attendant signalled for us to follow him down the dock.

 

We would be the only passengers onboard this morning and had our pick of seats. With us in the cabin was a flight attendant/crew chief, who came by to give us a quick safety briefing after securing the luggage. He was also responsible for untying the aircraft from the dock, then hopping onboard and securing the cabin as we taxied out to one of the water runways for departure. The Twin Otter was surprisingly powerful as the engines throttled up and we soon lifted into the sky following a short takeoff roll.

 

Seat

 

TMA’s Twin Otters can carry up to 15 passengers on each flight, configured with 5 rows of seats in a 1-2 layout. Settling in, we found the legroom onboard to be tight and the leather-clad seats basic with no armrests or recline. This was acceptable considering the small cabin and flights on average lasting no longer than one hour, but claustrophobic passengers may find this uncomfortable. A small literature pocket held the inflight magazine and safety information card.

 

The aircraft is not air-conditioned, relying on a pair of high-powered fans to provide air circulation once the engines were started. The narrow width meant that every seat had a view of the outside from the large square windows on both sides. Our cabin attendant informed us that the first row is most popular with passengers, having an unblocked view of not only the view ahead but also the cockpit action.

 

Crew

Our flight crew this morning was great and highly professional, yet always maintaining a relaxed island vibe throughout. Each seaplane is operated by a 3-man crew – Captain, First Officer and Cabin Attendant/Crew Chief. While the flight crew are responsible for navigation and operating the aircraft (famously barefoot!), its unique characteristics sees the cabin attendant’s role largely taking place when on the water to assist in docking and securing the cabin as opposed to passenger service onboard.

 

Meal

With seaplane flights typically being short, inter-island hops for resort transfers and flightseeing, no meals are offered onboard.

 

Entertainment

 

 

Trans Maldivian Airways offers its own inflight magazine, with the content naturally centered around the airline and the Maldives. We found some of the features on the country’s culture and bio-diversity not only interesting, but also educational in offering a glimpse of another side of the Maldives to visitors who would otherwise only see the luxury resorts they were flying to.

 

 

Having said that, the views outside easily trumped the magazine’s content. Seaplanes fly at a much lower altitude than commercial jets and on our flight, we were treated to magnificent views of the rising sun and of various resorts ringed by emerald waters. We also had a bird’s eye view of our resort, The Westin Maldives Miriandhoo Resort, as the pilots flew low over the island on final approach.

 

Arrival & Deboarding

Landing at the island was an experience in itself as the pilots brought us down in a steep dive to skim above the water surface before touching down. We were fortunate to be flying in good weather and calm seas allowing for a relatively smooth landing on the water as the Twin Otter rapidly decelerated and taxied to the floating dock. Once safely tied up, we were invited by the cabin attendant to deboard as he unloaded our bags for the resort’s staff.

%d bloggers like this: