Flying between South Africa’s major cities used to be an option reserved only for the privileged few. However, with the emergence and growth of the low-cost airline industry in South Africa, we have welcomed the boom of cheap domestic flights in South Africa. Whilst we’ve had to get used to being herded like cattle with no complimentary snacks or beverages offered on the low-cost airlines, it’s been a small price to pay to be able to fly for the first time. The emergence of low-cost airlines has offered many South Africans the chance to fly for the very first time.
Domestic Flights in South Africa
kulula.com, a sunsidiary of Comair, the British Airways franchise, launched the low-cost airline industry in South Africa in July 2001. With their incorporation, they also launched cheap domestic flights in South Africa. When kulula first started operating they followed a similar model to that of South West Airlines (a USA airline). To help ease passengers from the “served hand and foot” airline model to the low-cost airline model, they kept passengers amused with a lighthearted approach to airline service. This was their success. They became known for their witty exchanges and pre-flight announcements and have grown into a well-loved brand that offers cheap domestic flights in South Africa.
However the domestic flight industry has changed quite substantially from what it was in 2001. Many low-cost airlines having since come and gone. Namely, 1Time, Nationwide, Velvet Sky and FlyGoAir. The only airline, apart from kulula that has survived is Mango Airlines. This has been largely due to it’s affiliation with South African Airways. Recently, the newest addition to the cheap flights industry in South Africa, FlySafair announced its launch as of 17 October 2013. We wish them the greatest success as their entrance into the cheap flights industry has offered hope to bring down the price of flights from Johannesburg to Cape Town and vice versa. The number of flight specials from Cape Town to Joburg (vice versa) has dropped significantly in the months following 1Times’ exit from the cheap flights industry.
Are Domestic Flights in South Africa moving towards US / European industry trends?
British Airways, kulula.com and FlySafair have introduced the ability to reserve your seat when booking your flight, as opposed to at check-in. This is a long way from where we started with kulula. When kulula first launched, seating was on a “first come first serve” basis. This was also how low-cost airlines in the UK and US operated at first. With the increasing demand to offer cheap domestic flights despite the increased costs involved (i.e. airport taxes and fuel levies and costs), domestic flights operators in South Africa may be forced to follow international trends. Many US and European operators now charge you to bring checked luggage on-board. Being able to check your 20kg bag in for free is now offered as a perk where it used to be a given for any domestic flight. Other additional services have been added to the online booking process to try increase back-end income, from flight summary SMS’s to food and beverages being sold on-board. One does feel a little concerned to imagine just how far the profiteering efforts of low-cost airlines may go in order to continue offering cheap domestic flights.
Ryanair (an Irish airline) is undoubtedly the leader of the no-frills movement. Whilst they are continually striving to offer the lowest fares possible, they certainly don’t regard the customer experience very highly. Some measures that they have taken to reduce costs include: operating aircraft with non-reclining seats, no seat-back pockets, safety cards stuck on the back of the seats, and life jackets stowed overhead rather than under the seat. This allows the airline to save on aircraft costs and to offer more flights by decreasing their turn-around times. Further proposed cost-saving measures have included: operating aircraft without window shades, eliminating two toilets to add six more seats, redesigning the aircraft to allow standing passengers traveling in “vertical seats”, charging passengers a fee to use the toilets, charging extra for “overweight” passengers, and asking passengers to carry their checked-in luggage to the plane.
Whilst we would always want airlines in South Africa to offer cheap domestic flights, it is frightening to imagine where the cheap flights industry may be in years to come.
As part of the South African domestic airline’s efforts to cut operating costs, you will often find the cheapest flights online. You can still call airlines or book flights directly from the airline desks at the airport. However, it is far easier and cheaper to book these flights online. In addition, you can now compare and book multiple airlines on one site. Travelsupermarket.co.za offers an online booking tool that will allow you to search for, compare and book the cheapest domestic flights in South Africa. Using the tool, you are able to fly return on two different airlines offering you the best fare possible for your route and dates.
Airlines such as Mango and kulula often have specials offering cheap domestic flights. However, these are often sold out very quickly, and the longer you take to hear about the special or to book your cheap domestic flights, the more expensive they get. If you would like to be the first to hear about these specials sign-up to our newsletter.
Domestic Flight Routes
With seven domestic airlines operating in South Africa, you can travel between all major cities and most smaller cities. (see domestic flight times between the cities) The largest and busiest centers and routes for domestic flights in South Africa include:
Johannesburg domestic flights (including flights to and from OR Tambo and Lanseria)
Cape Town domestic flights
Richards Bay Flights
East London Flights
Port Elizabeth Flights
The cheapest domestic flight route is between Johannesburg and Durban with one way flights starting under R1500. It may not always be more affordable to fly, however with ever-increasing fuel and toll costs, it may be worthwhile to watch out for domestic flight specials.