LIFT denies hiking prices amid Comair's grounding as the Competition Commission warns airlines

Business Insider SA
Lift airlines South Africa
Lift airlines' Airbus A320 at Cape Town International Airport (Image: Luke Daniel/Business Insider South Africa)
  • South Africa's domestic airline capacity has been cut by 40% because of Comair's suspension that's grounded Kulula and British Airways flights.
  • Available seats are hard to find, and those that can be bought are expensive.
  • But competing airlines deny hiking their prices to maximise profits during Comair's absence, arguing that rare seats will always cost more.
  • LIFT is the latest airline to defend its fares amid the Competition Commission's warning to carriers over price gouging.
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LIFT is the latest South African airline to defend its fares amid the Competition Commission's concerns around price gouging while Comair's Kulula and British Airways flights remain suspended.

Finding an open seat aboard a domestic airline in South Africa has become difficult. And the rare seats that are available are expensive. That's because more than 40% of the local aviation sector's passenger capacity has been slashed, and now demand far outstrips supply.

Kulula and British Airways flights – operated by Comair – have been indefinitely suspended by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) since Sunday. A temporary suspension issued the day before had already sent ticketholders scrambling.

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

Comair's suspension is the result of three Level 1 findings handed down by SACAA relating to issues that present "an immediate risk to safety and security." By Wednesday, SACAA confirmed that one of these Level 1 findings had been closed.

While Comair continues its "very best efforts" to return Kulula and British Airways aircraft to the sky, other operators report packed planes, necessitating the need for additional capacity.

Low-cost carrier FlySafair has added at least 10 additional flights to plug the gap. South African Airways (SAA), on Tuesday, said it had deployed bigger planes. Airlink CEO Rodger Foster told Business Insider South Africa that "a few flights" had been added on certain routes.

Despite additional capacity, available seats remain scarce and costly, especially in the short term. But that's not because domestic carriers have changed their price brackets, argue operators.

"Our pricing model has remained the same during this period, and we have not increased our price brackets," Jonathan Ayache, co-founder and CEO of LIFT Airline, told Business Insider SA.

"These are adjusted automatically as flights fill up, which is how it normally works, the difference this weekend was how quickly they filled up due to the spike in demand. Last-minute flights and the last seats are always more expensive, which is why travellers are encouraged to book in advance to take advantage of the cheaper tickets."

This is the same sentiment echoed by FlySafair's chief marketing officer Kirby Gordon, who warned that, along with the rising cost of jet fuel, "higher fares may be on the horizon for all airlines."

LIFT, which only operates between Johannesburg and Cape Town, had already added at least 20 additional flights following Comair's grounding. Ayache added that last weekend's Cape Town Cycle Tour – and upcoming long weekend – had created an even higher demand for travel at a time when capacity had been stripped.

"We understand how stressful and frustrating the situation that evolved over the last week has been for passengers," said Ayache.

And while airlines defend their fares, South Africa's Competition Commission has issued a stern warning to carriers who've been accused of hiking prices to maximise profits during Comair's downtime.

"Whilst the Commission understands that the removal of airlines does certainly have [an] impact on the airfares, the situation that stranded passengers find themselves in should not be unduly exploited by other airlines," the Competition Commission said in a statement on Tuesday.

"In addition, where the Commission finds that airlines have actively removed seats from low fare buckets and allocated them to higher-priced fare buckets or introduced new, much higher fare buckets on popular routes, then the Commission may consider this an act of price gouging designed to deliberately exploit the current situation."

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