Imagine you just arrived in the Maldives. You just landed at Velena airport in Male, the capital of the Maldives. You are about to disembark your airplane and clear customs. A new unique adventure awaits after picking up your bags; you are about to fly TMA: Trans Maldivian Airways. Flip flop-wearing pilots will fly a small propellor seaplane from Male to your resort: an experience that will last a lifetime. Some love it, and some hate it.
This post tells you everything about the unique Maldivian experience that most travelers to the Maldives will be privileged to do. We explain everything about what it’s like to fly a Trans Maldivian Airways seaplane. This post is based on our experiences as we made an extensive review of Le Méridien Maldives.
Booking your flight
You don’t need to book your seaplane yourself. The flight will be secured by your resort and added to your hotel bill. Before you arrive in the baggage hall of Velena Airport, a lot has already happened to make flying a Maldivian seaplane possible.
Most visitors to the Maldives will be staying at one of the hundreds of resorts. Most of these resorts are situated at remote atolls and islands too far from the Maldives capital Malé to reach by boat. The ones that are close enough will make use of speedboats, for which the process is very similar and a bit more affordable.
Once you have completed your booking at a resort, the hotel staff will book your flights directly with TMA. You can usually find the price in the fine print of the hotel terms. You are generally not allowed or able to book flights yourself. TMA sets the price of the seaplane together with the resort depending on the distance and the profit the resort wants to make on your flight (speculating here based on unexplainable price differences for some close-by situated hotels). The price of the seaplane transfer in the Maldives ranges between 350 USD and 600 USD.
The resort staff will need some details from you to book your flights. This will be standard information such as your full names and your flight information from your international flights in and out of the Maldives. Usually, you will have to send this information seven to ten days before your scheduled arrival in the Maldives. This is also when you can no longer cancel your flights for most stays.
The seaplanes can only fly by daylight, meaning that they operate from roughly 7 AM until 4 PM. While most international arrivals will be scheduled within this time frame, there are always some exceptions. If your flight falls outside these times, you will have to stay a night in or around Malé. Luckily, there are some beautiful resorts close by and easily reachable by speedboat operated during day and night.
Seaplane flight times
Seaplane operations are much like regular airplane operations. Each resort has its own ‘airport’ complete with standardized three-letter airport codes. For example, Le Meridien Maldives has airport code LMM, while the JW Marriott Maldives has JWM. Flights operate based on a pre-determined schedule, and weather conditions affect airline operations.
But while the concept of airline operations may be the same, everything is also different. Flight schedules are only determined the day before flying, and weather conditions are based on what is happening in the sky and on the water. Rough water conditions can completely mess up all flight operations. At the same time, delayed or early international arrivals into Malé’s airport force TMA and its passengers to be very flexible.
As a result, arriving passengers will not know the exact time they will fly. Resort or TMA staff will give you a ‘likely time of departure.’ Sometimes, you will fly earlier, but you should mentally prepare for two or even more hours before flying. During our trip to the Maldives in December, the waiting time was about 2,5 hours.
While you are waiting for your seaplane, you will most likely spend your time in one of the TMA airport lounges. There is a general lounge that is large and spacious, where you can buy snacks and drinks. It also gives a nice view of all seaplane operations.
Many resorts, however, add access to a VIP lounge. These are smaller lounges with slightly more comfortable chairs and complimentary snacks and non-alcoholic drinks. During your stay in these lounges, a resort representative will continuously update you about your flight time and bring you to the seaplane when it is time to depart.
Time for boarding
The hotel representative picks you up in the lounge and brings you to a holding area just before boarding. You will be asked to sit down and view safety instruction videos for your upcoming flight in this holding area.
After the safety instruction videos, a TMA representative will call the resort’s name, and you will be asked to start walking to your seaplane. Usually, you will share the plane with passengers flying to different hotels so TMA can use the seats as efficiently as possible.
Boarding your seaplane isn’t like boarding a regular plane. You will walk on the docks with loud seaplanes all around you. You will have to follow the TMA representative and find your aircraft. Your luggage will already be on board, and you enter the plane from the back. All the time, the seaplane will be floating and might slightly be moving.
Seaplane departure and flight
The inside of the plane is small. You will be closely seated next to fellow passengers, and you cannot choose your seat. You will have to follow the pilots’ instructions on where to sit as they have to consider weight distribution.
The seats are designed in a 1-2 set-up, meaning that you have two window seats and one aisle seat. There is no service on board or a toilet.
Departure is rather entertaining and loud. Once everyone is onboard, a steward closes the back door, and the two flip-flop-wearing pilots in front start up the engines. Once the engines have started, the boat starts moving on top of the water, and once it has enough speed, it takes off.
While in the air, you will have a beautiful view of Malé and the surrounding areas. After reaching ‘cruising altitude,’ you will fly over multiple resorts and see the atolls from the air. The flight itself is a bit shaky and might not be very comfortable for very tall people.
Seaplane landing and arrival
Once the seaplane reaches its destination, it starts to descend. The seaplane has to land on the sea and dock at either a small wooden structure in open water or a unique seaplane docking pier.
After docking, all passengers walk out of the plane and enter the resort’s premises. The bags are usually handed over to hotel staff and brought to your room. The entire process is seamless, and you are ready to start enjoying your Maldivian vacation.