Inside Kenya’s most expensive domestic flight

A passenger plane skidded off the runaway and got stuck in the mud at the Takaba Airstrip in Mandera West on October 20, 2019. Flight charges between Nairobi and Mandera are the most expensive in the country.

Photo credit: File

Anyone traveling by air between Mandera and Nairobi is forced to dig deeper into their pockets for the two hour flight.

This comes as  Mandera-Nairobi route remains the most expensive for air travel in the country with a one-way ticket going for Sh17,000.

A number of travelers on the route Nation.Africa talked to complained of high ticket expenses, accusing the flight agencies in Mandera town and at Wilson Airport of extortion.

“I just do not understand why we are paying Sh17,000 to fly between Mandera and Nairobi when our neighbours in Wajir only pay Sh10,000,” Mr Ali Hassan said.

It is never easy to predict the ticket cost on this route because the price has never been constant, and in most cases the cost decided by brokers.

“We are faced with a lot of challenges that lead to high cost of flying. Apart from the high cost of jet fuel, the number of planes willing to fly on this route has also reduced, forcing us to transfer these additional costs to passengers,” Mr Abdisalan Birik, the proprietor Halgan Travel and Tours Agency in Mandera said.

The town has more than 15 registered travel agencies, all competing for the route.
Each agency has its own day to do business, according to Mr Birik.

The large number of middlemen has also led to high cost of ticketing in Mandera.

“We have so many brokers working for these travel agencies and this has contributed to the high cost of the ticket because each of these brokers has to be paid,” Mr Birik said.

High cost

He cited lack of many flights operating on the route for the high cost too.

“We are chartering a plane at Sh1.1 million now, which means an increase in the ticket cost. The plane has a capacity of 50 passengers but we are allowed only 45 passengers,” he said.

Before Kenyan traders resumed miraa business in Somalia, the Mandera route had a number flight companies operating on it but they later pulled out.

This left I-Fly and Freedom Airlines operating but the latter pulled out in October after one of its planes was forced to make an emergency landing in Wajir after developing mechanical problems mid-air.

“Since Freedom Airlines pulled out, we were left with I-Fly, meaning the demand has gone up and the ticket cost had to increase from Sh13,000 to Sh17,000,” Mr Birik said.

According to Mr Birik, lack of an airport in Mandera has left residents with no option but to pay a steep price, for the few privately owned flights that come in and out of Mandera.

“We are operating from a military airstrip. A highly restricted area which comes with a lot of challenges,” he said.

Attempts by the Mandera County Government to build an International Airport on the outskirts of Mandera town flopped in 2015 after residents opposed the project on grounds that they risked losing their grazing fields.

At least Sh300 million spent for a feasibility study went down the drain following opposition by the local community.


Another multi million project to build an airport at Wargadud in Mandera South by the national government flopped too due to wrangling and in-fighting by the contractors and sub-contractors.

“I have decided to remain in Mandera for this long school holiday since I could not raise enough money to travel to Bungoma, my home county,” Mr Eliud Kisia, a teacher in Mandera said.

Just like flights, buses have also hiked the fares between Mandera and Nairobi.
“We are charging between Sh5,000 and Sh6,000 from Mandera to Nairobi at the moment because almost everyone is travelling out of Mandera,” Mr Hassan Ali, a bus booking agent in Mandera town said.

The most affected with high traveling expenses in Mandera are teachers and other government officers going to different parts of the country for December holidays.

Non-locals in the town have an option of travelling through Moyale to get to Nairobi safely or fly.

“I have been unable to raise the Sh17,000 air ticket but I will have to pay Sh5,000 to reach Moyale before I connect to Nairobi,” Ms Susan Wasike said.

The Mandera-Moyale-Nairobi route only has one bus after another company pulled out citing mechanical challenges.

“We are only left with the Moyale Liner bus on that route after Mandera Raha pulled out. The bus is fully booked until around December 20,” Mr Ali Hassan said.

The government banned non-locals from using the Mandera-Elwak-Wajir-Garissa-Nairobi route in 2016 due to terror attacks.

The road has at least four bus companies on it but they do not carry non-locals.

“It is risky having a non-local on board because every time we are stopped by the Al-shabaab militants, the non-local will be killed or abducted,” a bus conductor with one of the buses said, asking not to be named.

The much publicised but yet to be started multi-billion shillings Horn of Africa Gateway Development Project is giving hope to road users between Mandera and Nairobi.

The Isiolo – Mandera road traverses in a north-east direction from Isiolo town through Meru, Wajir and Mandera Counties.

According to Kenya National Highway Authority (KeNHA), the road will enhance connectivity between Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia and improve the movement of people and goods and digital connectivity and access to social services to communities.