FlySafair adds flights to alleviate pressure on available seats
Monday, 14 March, Johannesburg Airports around the country this weekend were thrown into turmoil after the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) was forced to ground two carriers around safety concerns. Local low-cost carrier FlySafair is one of the few airlines left to accommodate those stranded by last-minute cancellations.
“This weekend’s groundings meant that almost 4 in every 10 passengers due to travel were left stranded,” says Kirby Gordon, Chief Marketing Officer at FlySafair.
The airline rallied to add as many additional flights as it could in an attempt to cater for those in need. “Our fleet was fully deployed on the published schedule, so it was challenging to add more capacity because we simply didn’t have spare aircraft or crew to mobilise at this time,” he explains.
The low-cost airline model was established in the early 1950s and a key characteristic has always been the most efficient possible aircraft utilisation. While carriers like FlySafair can sometimes activate a spare aircraft, it’s generally not expected that they would be able to add many more flights when their fleet being is properly used. However, this is exactly what FlySafair did to add an additional 10 flights this weekend.
Customers left stranded without warning
“Our airport teams have witnessed first-hand the number of people who’ve been stranded by these developments,” says Gordon, who adds, “What makes the situation worse is that these folks are all trying to secure the last seats on available flights, which are generally the most expensive ones.”
Gordon explains that the first seats to sell on a low-cost carrier are usually sold at a loss. As the aircraft fills up, the seats become incrementally more expensive and it’s the last seats that command the highest prices – therefore fares over holiday periods and other periods of high demand are usually higher.
Gordon said that not a single FlySafair seat was left empty on Sunday 13 March.
Prices on the rise
While customers complained about the high prices this weekend, FlySafair cautions that generally higher fares may be on the horizon for all airlines. “We’re all aware of how the oil price has shot up recently due to international developments, and this obviously has a massive impact on the price of jet fuel, which accounts for almost 40% of our cost base,” says Gordon.
The big question on everyone’s lips is whether airlines will be looking to pass these additional costs on to consumers. “Airlines, especially low-cost carriers who operate on high-frequency routes like us, are generally considered to be what economists call price-takers, which means that the fares we can achieve are set by market forces of supply and demand. It’s not really within our power to simply pass costs on to consumers, but the viability threshold of our business does rise and so there comes a price point where it’s no longer economically viable,” he comments.
Current circumstances adversely affect the market
Gordon adds that the situation at play is not good for the aviation market at all.
“Many believe that we’d be happy with circumstances like these where we are able to fill our aircraft, but the truth is that it’s bad for the market. Selling those last few seats is good but it doesn’t offset the cost of the long-term damage to the industry. South Africa needs healthy competition amongst airlines and customers need to know that they can rely on their carrier of choice. Unfortunately, situations like this one are not good for anyone in the long run.”
FlySafair is a domestic low-cost carrier operating in South Africa. Flights are available between OR Tambo, Lanseria, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, George, East London, and Durban from just R599. FlySafair was awarded Aviation Company of the Year at the 2019 South African Civil Aviation Authority awards along with Aircraft Operator of the Year, Aviation Customer Services, Aviation Security, and Aviation Maintenance Organisation. The airline has also been named Best Airline Africa and Indian Ocean in the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice™ awards for Airlines in 2018 and 2019. FlySafair began operations in October 2014 and is ranked South Africa’s most on-time airline, while proudly being the Trusted Domestic Carrier for the Springboks.
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