This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

From an empty Airbus A380 to Singapore to a 24-hour trek on the world’s first Boeing 787-10, I’ve had an opportunity to join some pretty special flights. Still, none have left me fulfilled in the same way I experienced on this week’s Norwegian 737 MAX trip to Africa.

As airline reps repeated throughout our adventure, it really was “the most important flight of the year.” And that has far less to do with the plane we flew, or even where we went — rather, it’s the 13 tons of UNICEF donations we carried onboard, enabling the United Nations Children’s Fund to save countless lives in Chad.

Loading the MAX at Copenhagen Airport (CPH)

Most of the group began the trip in Oslo (OSL), but UNICEF’s regional supply center is in Copenhagen (CPH) — we joined the flight and loaded the 26,000 pounds of cargo there.

Photo by Zach Honig.

Our aircraft was LN-BKC, a brand-new Boeing 737 MAX 8, delivered to the airline just two weeks ago.

Photo by Zach Honig.
.

Stacks of boxes were ready to go once the plane pulled up — all that was left was for us to get everything onboard.

Photo by Zach Honig.

Norwegian CEO Bjørn Kjos, a huge proponent of the airline’s annual Fill-A-Plane campaign, loaded supplies himself, below center, along with Nikolai Astrup, Norway’s Minister of International Development, and UNICEF Norway CEO Camilla Viken.

Photo by Zach Honig.

Boxes were loaded one by one.

Photo by Zach Honig.

The majority got piled into the main cargo compartment, which was stuffed to the brim.

Photo by Zach Honig.

Then, once that and the luggage area were full, a never-ending train of boxes made its way up to the passenger cabin.

Photo by Zach Honig.
Photo by Zach Honig.

Packages were stacked high at each row, using special airplane seat cargo holders to keep everything secure.

Photo by Zach Honig.

In total, we brought along:

  • 2,000 water purifiers (providing nearly 4 million gallons of water)
  • ~60 school-in-a-box kits, with materials for ~2,300 children
  • 5,000 school bags
  • 35,000 packs of oral rehydration salts and zinc, to treat children exposed to diseases after drinking contaminated water
  • 2,000 packs of Paracetamol with 1,000 tablets each
  • 1,000 doses of antibiotics
  • 5,000 tubes of Miconazole anti-fungal cream
  • 1,000 tubes of zinc ointment
  • 1,500 doses of oral anti-fungal agent
  • 1,500 doses of diuretic medicine used for body fluid retention, renal failure and heart failure in children
  • 250 mid-upper arm circumference measuring tapes

Plus enough food to get us down to Chad, and some heavy snacks for the return, since Norwegian couldn’t get the flight catered at N’Djamena airport (NDJ) for the return.

Photo by Zach Honig.

Our 737 MAX 8 Flight to Chad

Flight DY9001 pushed back around 1:00pm, some two hours behind schedule, since loading all that gear took longer than expected.

Photo by Zach Honig.

The flight felt fairly ordinary at first — crew members came through to make sure seatbelts were buckled and bags were stowed, and Norwegian’s standard safety demo played on drop-down TVs.

Photo by Zach Honig.

The MAX 8 could easily handle the distance nonstop, thanks to its range of more than 4,000 miles, though Norwegian doesn’t fly to sub-Saharan Africa, except on the annual Fill-A-Plane mission. You can see our routing in the image below, avoiding the airspace over conflict-plagued Libya.

Photo by Norwegian Air.

Most of the passengers were gathered in the front, seated two to a row, with the exit rows and the very last row occupied as well. All remaining space was used to accommodate the supplies we carried down to Chad.

The flight deck was kept unlocked throughout our journey, and passengers were invited to swing by for a visit. We had three pilots on board — just two are required, but a third came along just in case someone ended up catching a bug in Africa, since there aren’t any reserves anywhere near NDJ.

Photo by Zach Honig.

Prior to departure, flight attendants came through with a snack and beverage service, followed by a hot meal once we were in the air.

Photo by Zach Honig.

Since much of the food wouldn’t hold up without refrigeration, we were instructed to order as much as we’d like. I had quite a feast in front of me before they even closed the door.

Photo by Zach Honig.

I didn’t need a full meal after that massive snack, but anything left over would have to go in the trash, so I decided to pick at some steak.

Photo by Zach Honig.

I also had a chance to chat with Norwegian’s CEO. It’s clear that he’s incredibly passionate about the airline’s UNICEF partnership, and was proud to be joining the group in Chad.

Photo by Zach Honig.
Norwegian Air CEO Bjørn Kjos.

Arrival at N’Djamena International Airport (NDJ)

We had planned to arrive before sunset, giving us time to snap some photos of the arrival — and begin unloading the plane before the mosquitos made an appearance in full force. Sadly, due to our delayed departure from CPH, we landed in darkness — with armed guards arriving to keep an eye on our MAX while the team figured out what to do next.

Armed guards kept a close eye on Norwegian’s MAX throughout the group’s two-day visit.

There was quite a bit of confusion when it came to how’d we’d be getting all 13 tons of cargo off the plane. Eventually, ground staff arrived, but the locals tasked with unloading didn’t have identification. Due to various security concerns, much of the group — the four journalists included — decided to stay behind to unload at NDJ.

Insects quickly filled the cabin upon arrival in Chad.

After more than two hours of unloading, we finally made our way to immigration. Our visas were verified, passports were checked against a printed list and yellow fever vaccine cards were quickly examined. And with that, we were in Chad, and the 26,000 pounds of supplies we brought along began the journey to the country’s refugee camps, where they’ll help give people a chance at a better, healthier life.

The Norwegian Air Fill-a-Plane team in Chad. Photo by Zach Honig.
The Norwegian Air Fill-a-Plane team in Chad.

There’s much more work to be done, though. TPG donated $10,000 toward filling the plane for this trip, and readers have pitched in as well — but UNICEF still desperately needs your help. As part of Norwegian’s latest campaign, the airline is offering TPG readers five sets of two round-trip Premium tickets to Europe and beyond. See Win Premium Flights to Europe From Norwegian and UNICEF for details on how to donate, and how you can enter to win.

All photos by the author except where noted. 

The Business Platinum® Card from American Express

Aside from the 75,000 points welcome bonus, Amex recently made huge improvements to the Business Platinum Card, including the fact that you will now earn 50% more points on purchases of $5,000 or more, earn 5x on flights and eligible hotels at Amextravel.com and cardholders will receive a $200 airline fee credit each year.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Welcome Offer: Earn up to 75,000 Membership Rewards® points.
  • Earn 50,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $10,000 and an extra 25,000 points after you spend an additional $10,000 all on qualifying purchases within your first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com.
  • Get 50% more Membership Rewards® points. That's 1.5 points per dollar, on each eligible purchase of $5,000 or more. You can get up to 1 million additional points per year.
  • 35% Airline Bonus: Use Membership Rewards® Pay with Points for all or part of a flight with your selected qualifying airline, and you can get 35% of the points back, up to 500,000 bonus points per calendar year.
  • Enroll to get up to $200 in statement credits annually by getting up to $100 semi-annually for U.S. purchases with Dell. Terms apply.
  • Get one year of Platinum Global Access from WeWork. With this membership, you can access 300+ premium, inspiring workspaces in 75+ cities. To get this exclusive offer, enroll between 2/15/2019 and 12/31/2019.
  • Terms Apply
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
N/A
Annual Fee
$595
Balance Transfer Fee
See Terms
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.