This article on Seaplanes in the Maldives was last updated in June 2020.
There are hotel transfers, and then there are Maldives seaplane transfers. Arriving to a luxury resort in the Maldives on a seaplane is the best way to start a holiday.
Instead of a lousy hotel car, you get a few minutes (or even an entire hour) of amazing views that are better than many sightseeing flights so you can land at the destination in the perfect island mood.
But if you have never flown on a seaplane before, you may be a bit nervous or just plain curious about what to expect.
How long are seaplane rides in the Maldives? What is the seaplane schedule in the Maldives? What is the baggage allowance on a seaplane? How big and comfortable are seaplane seats? What does a seaplane look like inside?
These and other questions are commonly asked by most visitors to the Maldives.
At the time of writing I have taken 10 seaplane transfers on my various trips across the Maldives and I was just as excited the first time I flew as I was on the 10th.
What is it like to fly on a seaplane in the Maldives?
Read on to find out what you can expect pre-flight, during the flight and at arrival at your destination. In brief, everything you need to know about seaplane transfers in the Maldives. When you’re done reading about the seaplanes in the Maldives, you can read my guide to the best luxury hotels in the Maldives here.
The seaplane airlines in the Maldives
Firstly, let’s talk about the airlines that make seaplane transfers possible.
There is more than one seaplane airline in the Maldives but Trans-Maldivian is by far the largest. In fact, it is the largest seaplane operator in the world with a fleet of 48 De Havilland Twin Otters.
Trans-Maldivian Airlines (TMA) started as a helicopter operator in 1989 under the name Hummingbird Island Helicopters and only added seaplanes in 1997 when the company’s name changed to Hummingbird Island Airways and the company eventually became an all-seaplane airline in 2000.
Today, TMA serves over 60 resorts with 120,000 flights transporting close to a million passengers every year. It has more than 170 pilots from 21 nationalities and operates 23 airport lounges used by the passengers of the most premium resorts.
The other major national airline in the Maldives is Maldivian Air which not only operates about nine seaplanes but also has a fleet of propeller aircrafts for domestic flights to 11 domestic airports and serves some international destinations in India and China among others. This is similar to the larger propeller planes you will catch in Bora Bora. If you would like to compare taking a vacation in Bora Bora compared to the Maldives, you can read my in-depth article on the topic here.
Maldivian Air is the Maldives’ national carrier. It is fully owned by the government and was rebranded in 2008 from the original Island Aviation.
If you are staying at one of the furthest resorts like the Six Senses Laamu or the Shangri-la, chances are you will be taking a domestic flight from Maldivian. I also flew them on my way back from Joali as our departing flight from Male was not until the evening and seaplanes only fly during daylight.
How seaplanes work
Most of the Maldives seaplanes are twin-otter DHC-6-300s aircrafts, also called de Havilland Twin Otters, common aircrafts used for short distance take off and landings.
They are compact and efficient and can safely carry up to 15 passengers around the more than 1,200 atolls of the Maldives that are within seaplane reach.
DHC-6-300s are actually amphibian aircrafts meaning they can take off and land on water and on land. While the wheels of a seaplane are required in cases where planes depart from an airport (like the seaplane I took to Bawah Island), in the Maldives, the seaplanes all take off and land on water as the seaplane terminal is right by the water. This is pretty unique to the Maldives.
Seaplanes in the Maldives are similar to the propeller planes you fly when on safari in Africa. They fly low, sometimes very short distances (as short as five minutes when island hopping between nearby resorts), and do not have pressurised cabins.
That means that there is no air conditioning inside and so it can get quite hot with just a few small fans. It also translates into very high levels of noise, so earplugs are usually provided.
Usually, seaplanes can carry a maximum of 15 passengers in six rows with a 2-1 seat configuration.
What resorts are reachable on a seaplane
If you are very keen on a seaplane transfer in the Maldives, you should make sure to book one of the resorts that are reachable by seaplane.
You may spot one of the few domestic runways as you fly over the islands. These are used by the domestic flights. When you land there, you will be picked up and taken to the resort on a speedboat. This is the case for resorts that are further away, beyond the reach of a seaplane, like the Six Senses Laamu, in the southernmost part of the country.
Lastly, some of the resorts reachable by seaplane may also offer the option of a domestic flight if there is a runway nearby. As mentioned above, this is for guests departing or arriving after daylight hours.
There are more than 60 luxury resorts in the Maldives that use seaplane transfers so you should be able to find a good choice among them.
Seaplane operating times in the Maldives
All seaplanes in the Maldives take off from Velana International Airport which is adjacent to Male’s International Terminal, where passengers coming to the Maldives land.
There isn’t a schedule for seaplane departure and arrival times like with most flights. Instead, the routes are worked out daily based on the number and destination of the passengers who arrive on the day.
Your seaplane transfer time will depend on the time you land in Male and on what resort you are transferring to.
Seaplanes are only allowed to fly during daylight hours so if you land after 3,30pm you will most likely not be able to fly out on the same day but will need to spend a night at a hotel in Male or Hulhumale and fly out the next morning.
Likewise, if your return flight is late in the evening, as is the case if you fly to Singapore for example, you would arrive at Male Airport no later than 6pm.
There is not a lot to do at Male Airport and limited waiting space, so bear that in mind if your resort can only be reached by seaplane and your return flight is late. Check in for international flights may only open three hours before your flight so even your airline lounge access may not save the day.
Alternatively, some resorts offer the opportunity use or pay for access to their lounges while you wait for your international flight, but this can come with a hefty price (over $50 per person).
The best time to arrive in the Maldives is therefore the early hours of the morning so you can take the first seaplane out (as early as 7am) and have the full day at the resort.
Resort staff and TMA assured me that guests don’t usually wait longer than a couple of hours for their departure, but delays are common, as I found out for pretty much every single one of my seaplane transfers.
It is important to note that your departure seaplane time will only be communicated the evening before your arrival and usually not to you but to your hotel in Male/Hulhumale.
This is because the airline determines the routes and times based on the arrival numbers and times of all guests and the resorts they are visiting. The daily routing of seaplanes is an incredible jigsaw I can only begin to imagine the complexity of.
If you are staying in Male the night before, your resort in the Maldives will deal directly with your hotel in Male/Hulhumale and let them know your departure time ahead of your arrival so when you arrive, they will already know at what time you need to be at the airport.
All hotels in Male and Hulhumale have airport pick and drop off services which should not cost more than $10 for Hulhumale.
If you are landing from an international flight and transferring directly to your seaplane, you will simply be met upon arrival and the departure time will be communicated then, always with the ideal 2h window waiting time in mind.
How to book a seaplane transfer
Seaplane tickets are not booked by guests but by the resorts directly and charged to your booking. The cost of a seaplane transfer varies by resort but is usually a flat fee of $450 per person return.
Some of the more premium resorts charge higher than that. For example, the seaplane transfer cost can go as high as $990 per person for the more premium resorts that charge at the top end of the villa rates in the Maldives like Joali.
Seaplane check in and departure in Male
When you land in Male from an international flight, you will find your resort’s airport counter at the arrivals area and a hotel representative will be waiting for you. Depending on the resort and how premium it is, you will either wait for all guests to arrive and go to check-in together, or be escorted individually to the seaplane check-in counter.
Check in is usually pretty quick and consists of baggage weighing and labelling and boarding pass issuance.
You will be issued a boarding pass on the way out from Male to the resort, but not on your way back when you will not even have to check in but will simply board the seaplane from the resort’s jetty or floating platform and your luggage will be labelled by the resort’s staff.
After check in, most resorts in the Maldives have their own or shared lounge you will be escorted to while waiting for your departure. These lounges vary in comfort and facilities depending on the resort but are all walking distance to the boarding jetty.
For example, LUX* has a beautiful and well-stocked lounge with internet and a huge range of foods and drinks. The Conrad Rangali lounge has a family area and a decent selection of food and drinks. While others like Milaidhoo had a more basic lounge with some snacks and drinks. You are guaranteed to have internet in all.
Baggage allowance on a Maldivian seaplane
When you arrive at the seaplane check-in counter, you will have to weigh your luggage, both hand and check-in.
Your checked in luggage baggage allowance is 20kg and your hand luggage can weigh another 5kg. Over that, you could be charged a per kilo amount.
However, it is rare to get charged as most staff are quite friendly and understanding and you don’t really need a lot of luggage for a destination where the most important item are swimming suits. I was well over the 5kg with all the electronics and equipment I bring and nobody raised any issues.
Boarding a seaplane
Seaplane boarding passes don’t have seats assigned so you basically just walk to the plane and sit wherever you want.
Because the configuration is 1-2, there are two seats on one side and one on the other. Couples usually take the double seats, even if the person in the aisle does not get window views.
Boarding should be done from the front to the back although it is pretty much free for all. If the majority of the guests have picked seats at the back and the plane is not full, you will be asked to move to the front. This is to balance the plane as most of the luggage is at the back.
When you are at the resorts, boarding can vary. Some resorts have their own seaplane jetty right by the resort’s shore so you just walk to the plane. Others, like Soneva Fushi or Milaidhoo, have a floating pontoon in the middle of the ocean where the seaplanes dock and passengers get on and off. A speedboat then connects the pontoon to the island.
This is so that the seaplanes don’t land on the resort’s island and bother guests as they can be quite loud and the constant noise adds up in the end.
After everyone is seated, the seaplane is pretty ready to take off and from Male, it usually will do so straightaway barring some small delays. From the resorts, departure is almost immediate. Watch this video of a seaplane taking off from LUX*. Bye bye beautiful overwater villas!
Inside a seaplane in the Maldives
As you may imagine from the pictures, seaplanes are pretty compact inside and if you have claustrophobia you may feel very uncomfortable.
Aircrafts are small and short, and the ceiling is so low that you cannot stand up straight. Seats are also small, and there is no armrest separating the two passengers in the double seats. I could barely fit and I am only 1.70m tall.
There are seatbelts and sick bags in case anyone needs them, and of course emergency exits, but no tray tables and very limited space under the seat.
Most seaplanes have pouches at the back of the seats and Trans-Maldivian even has its own inflight magazine although I saw the same issue for the entire 2018.
Seaplanes can carry up to 15 passengers plus the crew (that is the 16th person at the back of the plane) and the two pilots at the front.
Passengers are split across six rows of two seats each with two window seats. On one side, the seats are double and can sit two passengers.
The luggage is usually stored at the back of the plane either in a small compartment or at the end of the seats, strapped with belts that keep it in place and prevent the items from moving during take off and landing.
If you have a small piece of hand luggage, you can take it with you to the seat but if it is larger you will be better off leaving it at the back because there is no space under the seat to place any luggage and it can get really crowded. Best is to keep your camera bag with you and leave the rest at the back.
The first row seats are closest to the pilots, so you have first row tickets to the take-off and landing show, although you will not be able to see anything through the windshield because the pilot seats are raised.
Most of the pilots I saw in all my trips were flying the planes in shorts and barefoot. That is most convenient I suppose, and also gives a true island vibe. In contrast, the pilots in similar propeller planes you will fly in Africa are wearing high boots.
The best seats in a seaplane are the one in the first row. They are the most spacious, provide first row viewing of the pilots and the landing and do not have the seaplane wings obstructing your view for pictures or videos, so you can get the best views.
What to wear for your seaplane journey in the Maldives
Bear in mind that some of the farthest away resorts may take an hour to reach so wearing comfortable clothing is important.
The most important point to be aware of is the fact that there is no air conditioning inside the seaplanes, so it does get really warm.
While I always carry a jacket for international flights, I wear the lightest clothes I can on a seaplane. It is hot outside and the sun is hopefully shining so it can get really stuffy inside the seaplanes.
The first row usually has some small fans at either side that will blow throughout the flight. I found this more a nuisance than a help because it was constantly blowing on my face so bear that in mind when you board.
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