Until recently, it was near impossible to get a regular flight to Socotra, cementing the island’s reputation as an untouchable paradise. However, thanks to Abu Dhabi’s ever-increasing appetite to place this Yemeni outpost under “administrative control”, travellers wishing to visit Socotra can now usually depend on a weekly flight from Abu Dhabi, departing Monday morning at 5.30am and returning late morning.
If you thought this made it an “ordinary” flight, however, don’t be fooled. You won’t find tickets on Skyscanner, and if you don’t have a contact on the island (or a dedicated travel expert on hand who does), forget about it. Likewise, as it’s a governmental charter flight, flight times and availability is subject to change based on the ever-changing relationship between the Emirates and Yemen.
In any case, with a little preparation and a hardy dose of adventure, your flight to Socotra can be a straightforward and memorable bookend to your tour.
How to check in for your flight to Socotra
Abu Dhabi airport, whilst ostensibly modern and clean, can be a little trying to navigate, especially if you have a while to wait before your flight. And, especially if that wait is in T1, which the Air Arabia flight to Socotra is. There is usually a security guard who may forbid you from passing him to sit in the (tiny) seating area with (small) convenience store, forcing you to pick up a perch on one of around six seats in the small corridor between terminals (read: floor) before he relinquishes and waves you in. Said wave is also completely dependent on his mood, so it’s good to keep an eye on the time and politely head through once the gate is open. If you arrive far in advance of your flight, head into T3 where there is slightly more seating, as well as a couple of cafes.
Once you’re passed the security man, head straight past the convenience store towards the far wall. Here you’ll see a semi-formal “ticket inspection” counter for flights to Socotra. Join the queue and display your passport at the counter, keeping your travel agent close on WhatsApp to confirm your flight ticket just in case of confusion.
Then you’re free to join the queue for check-in at the Air Arabia counter, which should be relatively straight-forward. Once your ticket has been issued and any bag checked-in, you go through security towards the left of the check-in counter and into the main terminal concourse.
What is there to do once I’m through security?
It may seem like all the fun’s in T3 at Abu Dhabi airport, however despite a disappointing start for many at T1, you’ll be met with a small and somewhat psychedelic pentagon of Duty Free, cafes and fast-food shops to grab a coffee, gather your thoughts and get chatting to your fellow travellers.
There are toilets, smoking lounges and even reclining chairs if you feel like spending the wait catching up on some much-needed sleep. However, in our experience, you’ll be much too excited to entertain this option (and the terminal will be bustling to say the least).
Expect the unexpected
Socotra is an incredible, unusual place, made even more so by the difficulty of reaching it. This is simply part and parcel of its charm. Travellers visiting the island should prepare for schedule changes, unexpected delays and even flight cancellations due to the political situation.
Rocky Road Travel, luckily, has a close reputation with the guides on Socotra and the airline itself. We will be made aware of any sudden changes which we will then be passed on to you as soon as they come out. Having a plan B is always advised in case of sudden changes (ask us for some good connections from Abu Dhabi), however as tourism to Socotra grows, it’s likely that these sudden cancellations will become less frequent.
Prepare to sacrifice some beauty sleep
The flight time has been set at 5.30am since early 2022, however, as mentioned, this is subject to change. Getting to Abu Dhabi well before your scheduled departure time is advised. Your Rocky Road Travel guide will be meeting you at T1 before 3am in front of the check-in counter, so make sure you stay somewhere nearby the hotel, (and set a couple of alarm clocks) or plan your connecting flight carefully.
Everyone will be in largely the same boat – and you can have a laugh about setting your alarm to 1am over a McArabia in departures. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to catch up on a few winks on the plane – the flight-time is roughly two hours.
The actual flight
The flight from Abu Dhabi to Socotra itself is very comfortable. Nothing is out of the ordinary at all, aside from the call-to-prayer at the beginning of the flight which may be unusual for some travellers. The seats are standard economy seats, and the food is surprisingly good. Air Arabia has a spotless safety rating and very professional staff. Once you’re on, it’s a smooth sailing flight to Socotra!
Landing in Hadibo will be very exciting. As you come down to land on what appears to be Mars, the only spec of land you’re likely to see until you’re actually on the runway is Hadibo airport, the only airport on Socotra, which is barely bigger than a service station.
Once you disembark the plane, take in your surroundings for a moment or two before bolting through towards security – one gate for the entire flight, which is very much a tooth and elbow affair. This is where you will likely meet your Socotri guide for the first time, who will collect your passport to be processed, before handing it back whilst the group waits at the luggage carousel.
There are toilet facilities at Hadibo airport, and once everything’s been processed and collected (which can take a little while), your guide will lead you out of the airport through the main doors on the other side and towards your 4x4s, which will be your trusty steed for your tour. For now, all that’s left to do is to take it all in. You’ve arrived – welcome to Socotra!