SAA offers an annoying new perk to business class passengers — it's symptomatic of a bigger problem

Business Insider SA


Bruce Whitfield
Bruce Whitfield
  • SAA is offering its business class passengers a new perk: they don't have to share a bus with the rest of the plebs on the plane.
  • It’s a small example of the airline being tone-deaf to an increasingly frustrated tax-paying public.
  • New bailouts of state-owned enterprises will eventually mean more misery for all South Africans.
  • For more stories, go to Business Insider SA.

It started a couple of months ago.

When an SAA flight parks away from an air bridge and passengers need to catch one of those weird buses that traverse the runways, poor cabin crew members have to wedge themselves between the last row of business class seats, just ahead of the silly curtain that divides cattle and business class.

They then have to politely ask economy passengers to allow those closer to the pointy bit at the front - who paid more for their ticket - to disembark first.

If the business class passengers are a bit slow in getting out of the plane, there is a ground crew member at the top of the stairs as a second line of defence.

Read: How to save R84,000 for the price of 5 coffees a month

They then proceed to slowly descend the stairs to ensure the last business class passenger gets onto the bus before signalling to the driver to shut the doors and whizz off while the rest of the passengers board a second waiting vehicle.

This morning, fewer than ten business class passengers were whisked off and received a substantial 4 minutes and 31 second advantage as they made it to the terminal first.

Some may have been captains of industry or senior government employees, who unlike ministers, don’t get a private pick up in a luxury sedan courtesy of the state. But that 4’31” is unlikely to add anything to our flagging GDP.

Sure, it’s the little things that make the airline's small cohort of premium passengers feel special. It may keep them coming back and encourage them to pay enormous fees for a little more room and metal cutlery (is that even allowed by IATA? Perhaps business class passengers are less likely to ‘jack a plane with a metal butter knife than the plebs), porcelain cups and slightly better booze.

Is this jealousy on my part? The cheapskate in me who refuses to pay up to 70% more for business class?

No. It’s just brain-numbingly stupid.

If you are a bankrupt state-owned enterprises and want public support, don’t waste money on frivolous incentives.

It’s a small example of the airline being tone-deaf to an increasingly frustrated tax-paying public who were warned this week that government revenues are under pressure and collections may undershoot February budget estimates by R100bn.

That means government borrowing will rise and taxes will have to increase to fund the growing interest bill.

Amidst the factional wars in the governing party, people who should be fixing the economy are spending a disproportionate time digging knives out of their backs.

It’s looking increasingly likely that Moody’s, South Africa’s most patient ratings agency, will downgrade the economy to junk. If not this year, certainly by the middle of 2020.

If the Finance Minister’s public cooking displays on social media failed to nail him a network cooking deal, perhaps his one-man money-giving fest on Tuesday will secure a syndicated TV talkshow.

Tito Mboweni channelled his inner-Oprah this week as he offered  a parastatal Christmas in July. You could almost hear him cry: ”You get a bailout! I get a bailout! We all get a bailout!"

He made an additional R59bn available to Eskom, which itself is in such a mess it’s struggling to find a CEO prepared to risk their reputation on the thankless task of running it.

But he hardly has a choice.

A failure to fund SOEs leaves only two choices. Allow them to fail or admit defeat and allow external partners in. Neither of which is an attractive prospect to government, which is allergic to the idea that someone could do it better.

Government has this crazy idea that when your ship takes on water all you can do is keep on bailing.

It’s in panic mode and appears incapable of fixing the leak that is causing the problem. While half the passengers are frantically bailing water from an increasingly sluggish and waterlogged vessel, the other half are widening the cracks.

Those doing the bailing eventually get weary and the ship sinks.

It’s worth remembering that when the Titanic went down, a whole lot of first-class passengers drowned too.


Bruce Whitfield is a multi-platform award-winning financial journalist and broadcaster.

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