Passengers and experts have raised concerns about ‘half-empty’ South African Airways planes as the embattled airline continues to cut flights.
Speaking to the Sunday Times, a number of passengers on both regional and international flights said that there were notably fewer travellers on their respective flights.
In one case, a man who travelled between Cape Town and Bloemfontein said his flight was so empty that passengers were shifted around to distribute the weight evenly. He added that there were about a dozen passengers on board.
These issues have been compounded by the loss of support of South Africa’s largest travel retailers, including Flight Centre, which recently announced that it will stop selling SAA tickets due to the number of flights that have been cut and the uncertainty around the airline.
Aviation analyst Guy Leitch said that these flights were a major expense for the airline and likely cost it millions of rands.
He estimated that the cost of a flight between London and SA — one of SAA’s busiest routes — was R1 million for the airline.
“Flying a half-empty or an empty flight from London is financial suicide. SAA pays around R400,000 in fuel on a flight, in addition to accommodation for the crew.”
While passengers and travel agencies are reportedly losing confidence in the struggling airline, the SAA’s business rescue practitioners have urged consumers to continue to book flights.
“Stakeholders of the airline should now have comfort that the rescue process is on a significantly sounder footing, and that passengers and travel agencies and airline partners may continue to book air travel on SAA with confidence,” the practitioners said.
This comes after the airline received a R3.5 billion loan from the Development Bank of Southern Africa which the practitioners said is sufficient to meet the short term liquidity requirements of the airline for the period until the business rescue plan is published and adopted.
The airline has also committed to cancel low-demand flights which are proven lossmakers. On Thursday (30 January), SAA said that will cancel and consolidate a number of scheduled flights in an effort to ensure flight efficiency.
SAA said that travel agents, alliance partners and relevant stakeholders have been notified of these operational changes.
“We are committed to accommodating all affected customers on alternative flights, operated by the airline and its Star Alliance partners. Any inconvenience or delays are intended to be minimal,” said chief commercial officer Philip Saunders.
You can find a full list of the cancellations here.