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Airlines still scrambling to fill the gap after Comair's departure

It's been over two months since Comair closed its doors, leaving domestic carriers, the likes of FlySafair, Lift Airlines and Airlink with almost 40% fewer available seats. Since then, SA airlines have been frantically adding routes and increasing their fleets to steer away from inevitable price hikes and shortages.
Airlines still scrambling to fill the gap after Comair's departure

Shortages prompt passenger outrage

Those in need of air tickets between South Africa’s major destinations like Cape Town and Johannesburg found themselves in a crisis shortly after Comair signed off, with zero available flights on most domestic carriers.

Amid the growing dissent, Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, chief executive of the Tourism Business Council South Africa, called for calm and patience, iterating that Comair’s demise offered opportunities for SA Airlines and carriers to add aircraft and build capacity.

He hinted that the time was ripe for fresh players to enter the market and encouraged travellers to book early in order to avoid shortages and high prices. Missing a flight is no longer an option for air passengers in 2022.

Unfortunately, the wheels of progress turn slowly in the airline industry, with air carriers facing a slew of regulatory processes when they want to increase their offering. Still some airlines, like FlySafair, have managed to add capacity and bring some relief to those flying domestically.

New flights from Safair in the air and on the cards

FlySafair’s chief marketing officer, Kirby Gordon iterates that the market has lost approximately 9,000 seats per week, and that new planes are one of the best ways to "help plug this gap".

As a result, FlySafair intends to add at least 10 new sub-Saharan African routes to its offering and increase its fleets by five planes in early 2023. Another three aircraft will join the fray by the end of the year.

Soon travellers will be able to book FlySafair flights to Nairobi, Maputo, Victoria, Falls, Lusaka, and Zanzibar.

The airline has already commenced with flights to Mauritius departing twice weekly from OR Tambo International Airport.

FlySafair already offers the largest route network in South Africa, with flights between all major centres, like Cape Town, OR Tambo, Kind Dhaka, East London, Lanseria, Port Elizabeth and a new Cape Town to Bloemfontein route.

Kirby has assured domestic travellers that while FlySafair can’t fill the gap left by Comair, it will continue to do what it can to increase capacity and bring relief.

Onwards and upwards for SAA

Likewise, SAA has reportedly stepped in to make up for the demise of by honouring the latter’s agreement with loyalty card holders with a well-known medical insurance provider.

Members of this popular programme can enjoy three discounted domestic return flights annually which does much to ease the cost of air travel as flight prices continue to climb steadily after Comair’s untimely demise. But, for frequent travellers three return flight discounts are soon depleted and comparing prices on a good search engine such as SA Airlines or Travelstart is often the best way to find the cheapest flights.

The national carrier is working steadily to increase its offering back up to pre-pandemic levels in the second half of 2022. The airline has recently signed a codeshare agreement with Kenya Airways, to increase capacity for travel to Dar Es Salaam, Entebbe, Harare, Kisumu, Nairobi, Mombasa, Durban and Cape Town.

Additional destinations in the pipeline include Kilimanjaro, Juba, Lusaka, Zanzibar, Ghana, Douala, and Nigeria.

Will prices stabilise as the world gets back to business?

The South African airline industry has suffered blow after blow in the last two years, having to contend with increasing fuel prices, airline closures, travel bans, and slow regulatory processes.

Increased demand is unlikely to assist in bringing fuel prices down as we hasten toward another busy summer travel season, especially in the wake of loosening travel restrictions.

In the light of these unique circumstances, it’s impossible to compare price increases based on past averages, and a little unfair on the airlines to do so.

Additional routes and larger aircraft can only help to keep the cost of flights as low as possible for the foreseeable future. Both business and leisure travellers are urged to book early, travel during low-demand midweek periods, and find available discounts on a good flight search engine to help reduce costs.


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