TunisAir (TunisAir Express) from Tunis (TUN) to Malta (MLA) Review
TunisAir has found itself between a rock and hard place with its main routes to Europe being ordered by mostly French discount airlines and the aggressive modernization of Royal Air Maroc to the West. However, it has a reputation as one of Africa's safest. For the 200 miles from Tunis to Malta, I had eyed Air Malta which is a fascinating airline to me - however, the 3 AM departure wasn't something I wanted to do so TunisAir it was.
Tunis Taxis are an odd bunch - tiny, old card full of old cigarette smoke but where can you hail a taxi - anywhere, and get a $2 trip to the airport with just a bit of French. After a quick taxi ride, we lined up at one of the TunisAir counters. My assumption was that any check-in counter would be able to check us in (we tried online without success).
The check-in agents scoured our passports looking for a visa for a flight to the European Union? She said we can't go and when we started to protest she was looking for our visa for Libya as she could ONLY check-in flights to Libya. Oops. She had no idea where you can check-in for flights to Malta (well clearly she had never seen a flight to Malta ever).
We retreated to the big announcements board and there it was Number 48. That sounded like a gate number but that seemed to be the check-in number. However, no 48 was to be found and everyone seemed to send us off in another direction. I was getting a little worried!
Finally, we found a make-shift tunnel to the domestic terminal where check-in for our flight was in full motion. Clearly, flights to the European Union from Tunis (which isn't part of the European Union - not even close) would be from the Domestic Terminal - duh!
Security was quick and so was immigration.
We thought we can wait out an hour at the Priority pass lounge but breakfast was already over at 8.45 AM and to our shock smoking was allowed and even encouraged. Tunisians are addicted to cigarettes but the whole lounge inside an airport? Coffee Shop it was for us...There is no working WiFi at Tunis airport - why would anyone need that!
While there is a god number of gates at the airport we shared our gate with that very flight to Libya we tried to check in earlier today. Only 15 minutes in between. That spelled trouble and so it was - our flight was announced for 10.30 but not even the Libyan flight had boarded at that time. The boarding area was crowded but also you couldn't go anywhere else as boarding was seemingly imminent. Finally, boarding was called and confusingly nobody knew for which flight. It ended up being a mess. So much drama over a 200-mile flight!
Once our bus got moving we suspiciously got closer to an ancient 737-500 from Alexandria Airlines. I was thinking - where does that airline fly and seconds later our bus stopped and got led unto the oldest plane I have been in for some time. There was no sight of Tunis Air or TunisAir Express anywhere. This must have been a spare B737 that the airline uses from time to time.
Indeed the interior was ancient and hadn't been cleaned in a decade it seemed.
To our surprise, it turned out to be an almost empty flight with maybe 20 passengers in the 737.
Our flight was uneventful and a skilled captain flew us right into a sunny day in Malta.
In sum, this isn't what I expected. The airport experience was shoddy, the plane ancient and badly maintained (at least from a consumer standpoint). This was way scarier that it should have been!