South African Airways (SAA) will no longer ply its long-standing London Heathrow to Cape Town route from August 15. Instead the Star Alliance member says that it will rebook passengers to fly in and out of Cape Town via its main hub in Johannesburg.
According to media briefings yesterday in Cape Town, SAA claims that all three carriers plying the route have seen traffic decline by 24 per cent between 2007 and 2011.
It means that the London to Cape Town service is no longer profitable for SAA.
The carrier’s general manager, Theunis Potgieter, explained that SAA would achieve better utilisation from its fleet by redeploying its aircraft on routes to Accra, Mumbai and Perth (Australia).
Other reasons given by SAA for dropping the London route were:
- The poor connecting opportunities available for SAA at both Heathrow and Cape Town, especially now that Bmi (a main feeder carrier to SAA) has quit Star Alliance. It means that SAA must now compete on price alone and this has an impact on ‘yield’ or revenue per seat.
- The high cost of UK visa fees for South African nationals, even if they are merely changing planes in London. According to SAA, individual passengers from South Africa must now pay a minimum of £52 (roughly Rand 685) for transit visas if they are travelling beyond the UK.
- The cost of the UK’s APD tax which is currently £81 per passenger for those in economy class and £162 for those booked in the premium cabins.
- Stronger competition from other, indirect carriers linking the UK with Cape Town with SAA referring to “airlines based in oil producing states.” In recent years Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways have all boosted their flights into Cape Town. Emirates alone now flies twice daily into Cape Town with connections at Dubai from cities throughout the UK and mainland Europe.
All in all it is not good news for business and leisure travellers visiting or leaving Cape Town after August 15.
Report by Alex McWhirter