Flying around SA just got more expensive – thanks to the grounding of Kulula and BA, again

Business Insider SA
Kulula airline (Getty Images)
Kulula airline (Getty Images)
  • Flights around South Africa are quickly getting more expensive in the immediate wake of Comair's sudden suspension of Kulula and British Airways.
  • Like the suspension handed down in March over safety and security risks, Comair's grounding has, once again, cut around 40% of the country's domestic airline capacity.
  • Fares aboard other airlines for flights over the next week have risen sharply, especially for those needing to travel before the weekend.
  • Some airlines are carrying these increases over into next week, with midweek flights aboard SAA from Johannesburg to Durban surging 69% since Comair's announcement.
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Prices for flights around South Africa are rapidly increasing following Comair's sudden grounding of all Kulula and British Airways flights due to a lack of funding.

Comair, which operates Kulula and British Airways (BA) flights, accounting for roughly 40% of the total airline capacity in South Africa, announced on Tuesday night that it had suspended operations. The grounding comes as Comair attempts to secure "additional funding" on advice from the company's business rescue practitioners.

"We deeply regret the inconvenience this suspension will cause our customers. We did everything we could to avoid it. Comair, the BRPs and the lenders are working all out to get the funding in place so that we can resume our normal flight schedule as soon as possible," said Comair CEO, Glenn Orsmond, in a statement on Tuesday evening.

This isn't the first time Comair has been forced to ground flights this year. Safety and security risks flagged by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) in March kept Kulula and BA planes out of the sky for almost a week. This suspension left thousands of passengers scrambling to find alternate travel plans.

And with a considerable amount of capacity almost instantly cut from South Africa's airspace, demand immediately outstripped supply, driving up fares on other airlines, and triggering a warning from the country's Competition Commission around price gouging.

Now, less than two months after the SACAA-ordered grounding, Comair is, once again, wingless. That makes flying around South Africa more expensive, at least in the short term. Strengthening capacity to accommodate passengers' demands won't happen overnight.

Ticket prices aboard South African carriers, for flights over the next seven days, excluding Thursday, have increased by between 12% and 69%, according to data gleaned from airlines' booking platforms.

These prices were recorded in the early hours of the morning following Comair's announcement and then compared to fares on the same flights seven hours later. The nearer the time of departure, the more expensive flights are, although some fares for the following week have already begun to rise sharply.

Low-cost carrier FlySafair is selling tickets fast. Booking a Friday flight from Johannesburg's OR Tambo to Cape Town cost R1,131 on Wednesday morning. By the afternoon, that price had risen to R1,730, representing an increase of 53% in just seven hours.

However, where other airlines' prices are rising across the board, over the weekend and even into next week, FlySafair is holding its special of R832 for a one-way ticket from Johannesburg to Cape Town. But the airline warns that the "price will go up soon" as more tickets on these special flights are sold.

Booking a flight on South African Airways (SAA) has also gotten more expensive. Tickets from Johannesburg to Cape Town aboard SAA on Friday spiked by 33% – to R2,294, the most expensive fare of all airlines surveyed – with increases extending into the following week.

LIFT, South Africa's newest airline, has wildly varying increases, with tickets on its only route between Johannesburg and Cape Town growing by 12% for a Sunday flight, from R905 to R1,010. But booking a flight before the weekend will cost at least R1,635, around 27% higher than fares displayed seven-hours earlier.

Bucking the trend, some of LIFT's starting fares offered for flights next week have actually decreased by around 10%, specifically those on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Prices for flights on Thursday and Friday have, however, increased by roughly 25%

Like other airlines, Airlink's fares for flights between Johannesburg and Cape Town over the next 72-hours have increased dramatically. Prices for flights over the weekend have gone from R1,186 to R1,635, increasing by 38%.

Privately-owned airline CemAir has held its prices constant throughout Wednesday, with tickets from Johannesburg to Cape Town over the weekend remaining at R1,150.

And it's not just flights between Johannesburg and Cape Town that are quickly becoming pricier, with Comair's links to Durban's King Shaka International Airport now also severed, capacity on this route is also under strain.

FlySafair's Friday flights between OR Tambo and Durban increased by 22% and remain stable in the week ahead. Flying to Durban on SAA, on the other hand, has become much more expensive and not just for flights over the next 72 hours.

Fares aboard SAA from Johannesburg to Durban next Wednesday have grown from R745 to R1,259, representing an increase of 69% since Comair announced its grounding.

And as Comair's grounding pushes up prices on remaining airlines – not helped by the rising cost of jet fuel – South Africa's Competition Commission has, once again, raised the alarm. The group said on Wednesday afternoon that it was "meeting with the leadership of the competing airlines to engage them on the implications of Comair's" grounding.

All prices quoted from airlines' booking platforms were correct at 13:30 on Wednesday. Because of the sudden surge in demand, these fares are constantly changing.

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