Fly540: Flying an African Low Cost Carrier.. And Living to Tell the Tale!

I’ve only offered up this blog to guests post a couple of times in the past, always when the reader has something unique to contribute that outside my expertise, or outside of the experiences I’m able to share.

Attorney Eric M. Fraser on the Supreme Court’s Northwest vs. Ginsberg (the case of the Rabbi who complained too much and was kicked out of his frequent flyer program). His contributions here, here, and here.

My co-worker Pakistani Correspondent (or ‘P.C.’), a young woman using miles for the first time and flying business class for the first time — redeeming Amex points transferred to Delta to fly Saudi home to her family in Lahore, Pakistan over Christmas and New Years. Her contributions:

Today Doug Hess offered to share his experience flying an African low cost carrier: Fly540. Since this is something I haven’t done, but struck me inherently interesting, I asked if he wouldn’t mind briefly writing up the experience so that I could pass it along. Here’s Doug with his concise Fly540 trip report:

This past week my job took me to Eldoret, Kenya. As I prepared to make my flight arrangements, I quickly discovered that no major air carrier (not even Kenyan Airways) flies to Eldoret. The airport is only served by two African discount carriers, JamboJet and Fly540. I was unfamiliar with either one, but initially tried to book JamboJet, as they fly 737-300 aircraft and are wholly owned by Kenyan Airways. Unfortunately, I found their website to be consistently unable to book tickets, and so I turned to Fly540. I really didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out to be a pretty decent experience.


Most major online travel agency websites do not search Fly540, although their fares can be found on CheapOair. I booked directly on and found the website to be very easy to use. Fares are all displayed in Kenyan Shillings, and it was easy to see and pay for extras such as additional bags. Their aircraft are configured with all-economy seating, so they only difference with fares relates to their flexibility. I had no problem booking my flights, choosing my seat, and checking in online. Their website honestly worked better than several of the US carriers.


After flying into Nairobi the night before, I arrived at NBO terminal 1D about 90 minutes prior to departure. Fly540 had two check-in desks open, and I only waited about five minutes in line.

The agent tagged my bag, printed me a new boarding pass (although I had already printed one from the online check-in) and wished me on my way. After making my way through the short security line, I found myself in the small domestic departures area. There was a small café serving drinks, coffee and snacks. I grabbed a bottle of water and waited to board.

If traveling without checked bags it would have been very easy to arrive 45 minutes prior to departure.


Boarding began about 20 minutes prior to departure. We boarded through Gate 3 and simply walked to the aircraft, which was parked about 100 yards outside the door.

Our aircraft was a Dash8 twin turboprop. We boarded by stair, and were greeted by a friendly flight attendant. The aircraft is configured with 2-2 seating, and I was on the aisle in 2B.

The Flight:

Our flight was scheduled to depart at 9:00am. At 8:54 the flight attendant closed the door and the pilot started the engines. After a short taxi we were wheels up at exactly 9:00. Considering we were on a continent where nothing runs on time, I was very impressed at Fly540’s punctuality. After reaching cruising altitude, the flight attendant came through with a service featuring Coke, Fanta, tea, coffee or water, together with a small pack of biscuits. The flight time was only 40 minutes, and after a relatively smooth flight, we landed about ten minutes early. It was about a 50 yard walk into the tiny Eldoret International Airport, and bags showed up on the belt within minutes.

I was initially hesitant to fly an African discount carrier that I had never heard of, but ended up being pretty impressed. This is certainly no-frills travel, but despite using tiny aircraft between small airports, their service and punctuality far outweighed airlines such as Spirit. Given the need to travel to rural Kenya, Sudan or Tanzania, I would not hesitate to fly Fly540 again.

There’s quality, reliable air service in Africa. That won’t come as a surprise to many, of course, but it runs counter to what I usually hear from folks.

Fly540 has been operating for 8 years. It’s possible to start an airline in Africa with very little capital, and this one has grown in value better than thirty-fold.

They currently fly to 9 destinations in Kenya, South Sudan, and Tanzania — with 8 destinations operated by subsidiaries in Ghana and Angola discontinued earlier this year. They’ve had no incidents involving passengers since operations began.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I flew Fly540 from Dar es Salaam to Nairobi in 2012 – figured it couldn’t be more risky than a 24-hour bus ride on poorly maintained roads. I too have nothing but good things to say about the experience, except that maybe it’s easier to run things well when there just isn’t the volume of passenger traffic that you get elsewhere. I agree with Doug – I’d fly them again.

  2. I’m not sure if I’d call any airline in Africa as low-cost carriers. I’ve found it a great deal to redeem miles for intra-Africa trips since air travel — even in economy class — is quite expensive in Africa! The low-cost way of travel there is by bus.
    I hope you enjoyed Eldoret! I’d be more interested to hear if you went on some practice runs there with the Kenya running elite! 🙂

  3. Gotta say, that was a fair review of Fly540. Nice to see something about Africa (African airline) or otherwise that doesn’t present a one-sided view. I haven’t flown to Eldoret, but I’ve flown to Kisumu and Mombasa in Kenya, and the experience has been fairly similar. Kudos to author

  4. Glad to hear that others have had a good experience with Fly540. I travel in East Africa for weeks at a time and count on short flights to make life easier. In almost 20 years I’ve had just 1 bad experience (w Air Madagascar)

    Most of the regional carriers in E Africa that I know are ok and fly540 has been above average every time. Booking is easy on their site. (NB: Phone booking a nightmare regardless of carrier in my experience.)

    I was bummed when Fly540 ended their flights to Entebbe though 🙁

    Even for leisure travelers I think short flights within Kenya or to TZ can make for a better trip for all the time and headache driving overland. Worth checking out fly540 or others in order to have more great experiences during a holiday.

  5. ?? apparently wm read a different post than I read.

    Great review, and helpful to me, as I plan to be in the neck of the woods in a year or so. Thank you.

  6. Fly540 is very decent airline and flies to several routes within Kenya and East Africa. As Joey said earlier, 540 is not really low-cost and also 540 has undergone a recent restructuring, spinning out another airline called FlySAX

    Kenya Airways KQ used to fly to Eldoret until about 3 months ago when they transferred that flight operation to their new low-cost JamboJet subsidiary. Jambojet bill the flight at about Kshs 1,999 ($24) for the one way to Eldoret if you book early, but it seems once those few seats are taken up, most passengers pay about $50 for the flight

  7. Nice… How things have changed since I was flying an old YAK42 from KRT down to JUB and Sudan Airways back on an old 737-100…

  8. @mbh, The title is sensationalist. Why wouldn’t someone live to tell about flying on an African low cost carrier?

    “Considering we were on a continent where nothing runs on time,” Offensive. How many things run on time in North America?

  9. Alas – it’s not cheap at all! ZNZ-NBO fares however around $250 for the one-way! Flying Blue miles on Kenya Airways come out to 7,500 +$100 in YQ.

  10. @wm – While I am certainly sorry if anything in this post offended you, it feels like you are looking for things to get offended about. While I didn’t write the title, I think Gary’s point is that smaller, discount carriers overseas (not just Africa) lack the strict US/EU regulations and often have a reputation for having less rigorous safety standards (and he was probably just being funny). Regarding my comment that nothing runs on time in Africa, I am not sure why that would be offensive. If you have spent any time in Africa you would know that it is just not a culture that values time in the same way that North America and parts of Europe and East Asia do. This is not a criticism, it is simply an observation, and in light of that reality, it surprised me that Fly540 was so punctual. You might benefit from spending less time looking for ways to be offended. Baselessly throwing around accusations of racism doesn’t do anyone any good.

  11. @ w m, born and raised in Uganda. The fact that nothing runs on time is well known and largely accepted by most Africans. Hence the common joke of things running on ‘African time’. So I take zero offense to that comment, or the article’s title. I know most people outside of the continent would be quick to sensationalize and misrepresent Africa though. Therefore I do thank you for standing up for us 🙂

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