Unique Flying – an Island Hop with Citilink Airlines

The direct distance from Dili, the Capital of Timor L’Este to Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia is just over 1100 km (660 mil) and takes around 90 minutes. Two carriers ply the route- each one flying a few times a week. I chose a new airline for me: Indonesia’s Citilink, hopping on board flight . The fare wasn’t cheap, however as demand seems to exceed the number of available seats. My biggest gripe with the island nation is the lack of easy transport opportunities. You only get to Dili by air from Darwin, Australia, and Denpasar. Because of a lack of navigation equipment and working runway lights, all flights leave Dili in the daytime only.

a map of the world

Citilink Airlines was a low-cost unit of Garuda Indonesia, established In 2009. It became an independent carrier in 2012. Their main competitors in Indonesia’s low-cost air service segment are Lion/Batik Air and AirAsia.

They have a fleet of one-class Airbus A320neo, A320-200 and ATR 72-600 flying domestic services and regional flights to China, Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and East Timor. They also have two wide-body Airbus A330-900s with a Premium Economy cabin which only fly to Australia and Saudi Arabia.

a plane on the tarmac
I flew this A320 (PK-GLN) from Dili to Denpasar. Note the tarmac boarding.

I flew on an Airbus 320 through calm, smooth skies with almost zero turbulence. It was a delightful flight with some funny experiences at Dili Airport.


The Citilink website is very straightforward. The site sells tickets in English or Bahasa Indonesia. The airline offers you a variety of insurance but unlike some low-cost carriers, they don’t sneak it onto your ticket without alerting you properly. The site offers the chance to pre-purchase your seat. Frustratingly, it won’t allow the choice of the emergency exit seat for this sector and didn’t say why.


The tiny Check-in area at Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport in Dili was crowded, chaotic, and fun. It was hard to be stressed in such chaos. There was no signage to indicate which counter was dealing with which airline, and no one was guiding people to the correct line. As two flights left at roughly, people kept queuing in the wrong place and were good-naturedly directed back. Diplomats, military, aid workers, business people and the occasional tourist mingled, chatted and jostled.

a group of people in a room

The actual check-in process was speedy, efficient & friendly. I didn’t check in any luggage, so did not get them weighed on the old-fashioned scales!

I got my favourite exit-row seat 14F! I was surprised at how simple and easy it was at the airport!


I grabbed a delicious iced local coffee at a little shop at the check-in area and downed it before going through the very friendly immigration, where the agent urged me to return to Dili! The security screening was one of the friendliest I have ever encountered. I won’t comment on how effective it is.

There does not appear to be a private lounge, and the main waiting area is a big hot room with some air conditioners spaced around. The lavatories here were very basic but very clean. Despite what I had been told, there was a small shop with drinks and souvenirs such as Timor-Leste caps & T-shirts!

a group of people sitting in a waiting room


Boarding was through a single departure gate & across the tarmac, which I love! I could imagine that the amusement level may fall in the rainy season.

a man wearing a face mask and a plane in the background

The boarding pathway was one of the more beautiful ones I have passed through!

The Government of Timor-Leste is targeting to develop Dili Airport as a modern international standard airport with a capacity to handle one million passengers per year. In 2021, the government took out a $US135 million loan from the Asian Development Bank to lengthen the runway, add new airside infrastructure and construct a new Air Traffic Control Tower. So the quaint airport will undoubtedly change.

My biggest concern with the flight was Citilink’s safety rating is which is only 5/7 according to airline ratings. They are marked down for the number of incidents they have had over the past five years and for lack of audit compliance. eek!! I usually won’t fly an airline lower than 6/7. Citilink has had a series of runway overruns and In November 2021 a plane of theirs took down a fence at Ende airport. Not comforting when leaving Dili airport, where the runway ends in the sea! Having said that, the takeoff, landing and flight were safe and fine!

Citilink passes COVID-19 Compliance with a score of 6/7. Masks are compulsory for boarding, on board and de-planing. We may run off the runway but our masks will protect us from germs?

a parking lot next to a body of water
Dili runway end

On Board

The crew were very warm in their welcome. How I wish I could bottle this warmth and share it with other carriers.

Citilink crams 180 seats onboard in a standard 3-3 layout with a seat pitch of 28″, a width of 17.5″ and a recline of 3 degrees. Hence, why I love booking exit row seats on these carriers.

I did like the fresh green look on board noting that the plane was covered in ads on the seat backs and luggage lockers. The plane was spotlessly clean.

We even got a free meal. There was no meal choice, however, apart from vegetarian /non-veg. All meals are Indonesian style and Halal. Today I had Nasi Ayam Rica: chicken in spice mixture with red chilli pepper and rice and a choice of water/carbonated drinks. Snacks were sold by the staff along with souvenirs.

Overall Rating: 72%

Citilink is Certified as a four-Star Low-Cost Airline for the quality of its airport and onboard product and staff service. I was impressed. Very friendly. My ratings are:

  • Booking: 9/10 
  • Check-in: 5/10 – 10/10 for entertainment value!
  • Boarding: 10/10 -if you like walking to the plane
  • Meals: 7/1
  • Entertainment: 0/10- Nothing except a tatty copy of an in-flight magazine and advertisements on seat backs and luggage lockers
  • Service: 10/10

Value for money: 4/10 (There is no fare war on this route!) Would I fly them again? Yes -but it would depend on the competition.


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