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  • Writer's pictureAbby

The Ndola airport: all about NLA in the Copperbelt, Zambia with a fun educational day trip idea





Ndola airport: Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport (NLA)


Ndola airport was said to have opened on August 7th 2021. However, in September 2021 over a month later, I had one of the last flights in to the old airport from Greece (via Ethiopia) and while I was bummed to not see the brand new airport, it was a relief to know it was the last time flying into that one. If you have flown into Ndola before 2021, you know exactly what I mean.




Context: the old, original Ndola airport

(Skip if you just want the details on the new one!) 

It was an old school African airport. Walking off the plane with all the gusts of wind and aircraft sounds but quickly greeted by the strong sun, the intensity that makes you wonder why you are here? Only to be rushed into long crowded lines in a small stuffy room, which was called the airport. After who knows how long and what challenges as a foreigner might arise, you make it through! And think, "but where are the signs to baggage claim?" Oh wait…the baggage claim is in your way — a hallway, a corridor full of bags being thrown, or maybe placed, on the ground at your feet in big piles. 


It’s a mess, but isn’t that life? It’s an adventure but not one that many seek. And eventually if the bags are in tact and they don’t try to take advantage of you as the noticeably foreign person, then you might just be able to walk out free, to the tone of “Taxi! Taxi! Taxi!” everywhere around you. Reminding you that you’re in a foreign land.


If you’ve been through this or if you’re trying to imagine it all, let's not forget about the small parking lot, was it built as if people are walking to the airport? No matter how early we would go for airport pick ups, there were usually about 3 spots left and often times none which meant driving to an illegal parking area and hoping for the best. The list and descriptions could go on, but I’m guessing if you’re reading this you’ve either flown into Ndola in the past or can imagine and relate to this kind of airport that we find all over the world for decades. But let's get to how it is now!




The new Ndola airport: Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport (NLA)

Changing the airport changed the whole experience of flying into Ndola. It’s like you just feel light and airy when you enter. You can't help but smile and feel happiness. No stress in the air. It’s a short walk from the runway to the entrance. You’re greeted with the cold AC and state-of-the-art building, in a way you could be anywhere in the world. Nicer and newer than several airports in the global north.


Things are stream lined and professional. Multiple booths are open and they help you through to be sure you’re in the right line and if you ask questions they are very friendly and quick to answer. Now that I am traveling with babies, it’s even quicker! They usher me to the front of the line and make sure to take care of mama bear and her cubs. 


No matter domestic or international, the new airport is used. (Something the capital city of Zambia, Lusaka, needs to change and follow suit domestically, because flying into the old airport with a beautiful new airport right next door…is the absolute ghetto.) I love how the Ndola airport is built with a bigger space and multiple gates in hopes and in mind to accommodate more travel and flights in the future! 



Location

For the residents of Ndola, the new location does feel a little far in comparison now because it is outside of the city, but it is a very natural distance for an international airport. It is also more convenient for those coming from Kitwe and other nearby cities and towns, because this airport serves the whole Copperbelt province. It is beautifully set amongst the forest as you drive there and plenty of green surroundings (depending on the season) and a nice view into Ndola. 


Food and drink 

There is very little in regards to things to do or eat here. There is one nice cafe, Revive, to sit and enjoy a drink or light meal before going through security. After security, there are only a few limited little shops. There are water dispensers with both hot and cold water! I always fill up my bottle with plenty of cold water from these and usually have a cup for tea/coffee!


Shopping

As I’m sure you’d imagine, this is not an airport for consumerism or any long layovers to make multiple shops and big name brands worth it. There are a couple shops after security that sell trinkets so you can buy some souvenirs and packaged snacks but otherwise don’t count on any real shopping! (Hot tip: Stop in Twapia, just near the airport, for hand made artisan crafts and souvenirs. Comment below if you'd like a direct number to some of the best artisans here.)


WiFi

There is a wifi network but most times that I’ve tried to access it, it’s not working. This is an area of improvement needed. Granted, the low traffic does not demand this service as much as other busy international airports.


Airport lounges

Regrettably, there is no lounge option at the Ndola airport. I hope that one day soon fnb will add on their lounge here. For now, SLOW lounge it is just available in Lusaka or Johnannesburg and here is more information about it! Highly recommend.


Timing

Do we really need to arrive the 3 hours early recommended internationally? No.

How about 2 hours early? Maybe.

With the advancements, also comes a little bit of a stricter way of life. Previously, we became accustomed to arriving just 30 minutes before our international flight left at the old airport. This has changed. Although there will probably be short lines and no real hold ups, the airlines are holding a higher standard and can stop the check in time as according to the airline policies. One time we arrived about an hour early and were almost denied check in, we had to speak to the manager and apologize for our tardiness, ha! Therefore, 1.5hrs before departure is recommended. 



Watch the planes fly in

A tradition I had heard about in old country western songs but something I had never done! This will be a new family tradition. It was special because our 1.5 year old daughter had missed her dad so much. 3 weeks of her saying “papa?” every morning when she woke up…I couldn’t wait any longer for her to experience papa coming home!


After parking, just go up to the second story (escalator or elevator are both fun for kids and so far always working). Head over to the left side of the building where there is an open space in which the plane can be seen landing, as well as a great view of everyone disembarking!


Ndola is such a small city with not many things to do so it’s definitely worth making an adventure day out of it! A whole kids day field trip idea:


Airport day trip kids activity

  • wake up and prepare early, talk about who is coming to town and how

  • Matching or themed outfits - all about flying around the world!

  • Light meal before hand - 20min drive from town center - and talk about airplanes 

  • Arrive early, take your time parking and going upstairs

  • Enjoy a drink and snack at the cafe by Revive

  • Watch the plane land (Kids: clap together, explain the importance of always thanking the pilot and staff, talk about manners and gratitude) 

  • Watch the passengers disembark and try to spot your loved one! WAVE!!!

  • Watch the different steps of it all taking place: safe landing, staff checking the aircraft, the stairs on wheels vehicle driving to the plane, the baggage vehicle coming to collect the bags, the workers and all the working parts to make it all a success! (Have kids recall/retell step by step on the way home with older children) 

  • Take your time to go downstairs because customs and baggage often takes about 15 minutes. Possible time for a drink/snack here, too! 

  • Wait & meet your loved one downstairs at the international arrives spot! There is plenty of seating and it hardly ever gets crowded.

  • After the pick up, choose the first thing you want to do with your visitor! Go eat traditional Zambian food? Have a meal at home? Go for a local bev? Unpack and settle in? Enjoy the whole day and if your child is old enough, have them draw a photo about it and make a journal entry about the day trip to the airport! 



Please visit their website here if you wish to know more about parking rates, directions, other services, information and contact phone numbers. 



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