Few, and very expensive, flights available in SA for the long weekend, thanks to Comair saga

Business Insider SA
South Africa flights sold out long weekend Comair
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  • The South African Civil Aviation Authority's grounding of Comair's Kulula and British Airways flights has cut total domestic airline capacity by more than 40%.
  • Capacity for air travel is being outstripped by demand, and flying in South Africa has become much more expensive.
  • This is made worse by the upcoming long weekend, a time for increased travel, with all remaining airlines quickly running out of available seats.
  • Travellers will struggle to find a flight between Johannesburg and Cape Town before Saturday, and those that do will pay much more than usual.
  • Although there are a few seats available on Saturday and Sunday, they're filling up fast.
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South Africa's airlines are quickly running out of available seats for the approaching long weekend as capacity is overwhelmed by demand due to the continued grounding of Comair's Kulula and British Airways flights.

More than 40% of the seating capacity in South Africa's domestic airline market has been cut due to the suspension of Comair's operations ordered by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA).

The suspension, handed down on Saturday after a recent spate of safety issues, was initially meant to last for 24 hours. On Sunday, Kulula and British Airways flights were indefinitely suspended.

Comair's abrupt grounding led to panic at airports across South Africa over the weekend. Low-cost airline, FlySafair, managed to get additional aircraft into the sky to accommodate some stranded passengers.

These last-resort seats didn't come cheap and, according to FlySafair's chief marketing officer, Kirby Gordon, airline fares in South Africa are expected to remain high as long as demand continues to outstrip supply. The rising price of jet fuel isn't helping either.

Prices aboard LIFT, a newcomer to South Africa's aviation sector operating a single route between Johannesburg and Cape Town, have also increased dramatically in the wake of Comair's suspension.

The country's recently re-emerged flag carrier, South African Airways (SAA), confirmed on Tuesday that it, too, would add additional seats by bringing bigger planes to the sky. SAA said it hadn't increased its fares, but its online booking platform shows the cheapest available seat between Johannesburg and Cape Town before Sunday costs more than R4,000.

Seats aboard South Africa's major commercial airlines – FlySafair, LIFT, Airlink, and even Cemair – are almost all sold out ahead of and for the upcoming long weekend, with Human Rights Day celebrated on Monday 21 March.

FlySafair's booking platform shows no available seats, for flights from Johannesburg to Cape Town, on Wednesday and Friday. At the time of publication, only two seats were available on Thursday, for R3,281 each.

More than 60% of flights along the country's busiest route on Saturday were already sold out, with those still available displaying "price increase" or "last seat" notices. Although there are more FlySafair seats available on Sunday, daytime flights between Johannesburg and Cape Town start at just under R2,000 and are expected to become more expensive as bookings increase.

FlySafair isn't the only airline with sold-out planes and costly fares. Airlink only has a few seats left between Johannesburg and Cape Town before the long weekend, the cheapest starting at just under R4,000. Airlink's Friday flights are sold out, and those wanting to fly on Saturday can expect to pay around R6,000.

"We have added a few flights on certain routes, JNB-PLZ [Johannesburg-Gqeberha], JNB-CPT [Johannesburg-Cape Town], but with abundant caution in the expectation that Comair will resume services imminently," Airlink CEO Rodger Foster told Business Insider South Africa on Tuesday afternoon.

Most of LIFT's flights before the long weekend are also sold out. The few seats still available start at R3,430. There's still capacity on Saturday – although, unlike the other airlines, LIFT's booking platform doesn't show just how much – starting at the same price.

Seats aboard SAA are also filling up fast, although it's unclear how many would become available with the promise of bigger panes. The flag carrier only has two available seats on the Johannesburg to Cape Town route before the weekend, for R5,645 each. Only three seats are available on Saturday, starting at R4,110, and around 15 open on Sunday.

And it's not just South Africa's busiest route from Johannesburg to Cape Town that's impacted.

Seats on flights Johannesburg to East London, for example, are also scarce, with those few available on FlySafair about to become more expensive. Airlink, on the same route, has no seats available until Sunday, and those have almost all been snapped up, too.

SAA flights from OR Tambo to Durban's King Shaka International Airport are more than 95% full before the long weekend. There's some capacity on Saturday, but those flights, which were once under R800, now start at more than R2,300. 

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