Without affordable airlines serving the South African market, many people would be unable to afford flights to the destination of their choice. That being said, just how reliable have low-cost airlines in South Africa been over the years?
South Africa’s travel and transportation industries have certainly had their fair share of troubles when it comes to the start-up and failure of various low-cost carriers in South Africa.
During the period from 2012 to 2014, the budget airline market was characterised by a succession of false starts as well as legal and regulatory woes. Not to mention monopolistic territory-marking by existing South African airlines, such as SAA, Mango Airlines, Comair, and Kulula.com.
Today, have budget airlines been able to get past those hurdles? And how many are around to offer you the best flight experiences without requiring you to pay an arm and a leg?
While low-cost carriers like FlySafair and Fastjet airlines were keeping the market waiting in 2014, a new ad hoc charter airline, Global Airways, took to the sky before June that same year. And that's when the competition really began. That being said, Global Airways was anything but cheap.
In March 2014, another charter airline, Fly Cemair, launched a route connecting OR Tambo Airport to Plettenberg Bay. At the same time, the carrier also unveiled a Cape Town flight route. What everyone wanted to know was if they were here to stay and what was really taking the other low-cost carriers so long to launch?
The new budget airlines experienced delays of varying degrees in their start-ups. Skywise had their Air Service Licenses cancelled, and the FlySafair airline faced legal challenges related to South African ownership requirements. On the other hand, FastJet was facing opposition from the existing domestic airlines of the country.
However, all hope was not lost as the latter two got past those hurdles and are still around to fly you around affordably. Today, the country’s citizens will enjoy the opportunity to book cheap flights in South Africa with a low-cost carrier from a sizeable selection pool.
These are some of the budget airlines in SA still providing low-cost one-way and return flights to travellers:
Unfortunately, the following budget airlines of the country have all gone bankrupt or closed in the intervening years:
At this point, it doesn’t seem like there’s a possibility for a new low-cost airline in SA in the very near future. However, if more and more of these carriers succeed, there’s potential that LIFT Airline won’t be the last new face around.
One of the biggest problems for South Africa's budget airlines in 2022 is competition. With large carriers such as SAA and British Airways having their own associated low-cost carriers, the competition is not only rife but also a little unfair for some.
Just a few years ago, FlySafair and SA Airlink proposed a merger to level the playing field. However, their plans were shut down by the Competition Commission based on the belief that this would lessen competition in the market.
According to the commission, the merger would have removed a competitor to SA Airlink. Plus, because FlySafair offers competitive pricing on similar routes, it would most likely result in substantial price increases.
FlySafair and Airlink disagreed with the Competition Commission. They stated, "We firmly believe the proposed transaction will be beneficial, not only for the two companies but for their customers, employees, suppliers, the local and regional air transport markets as well as the broader South African economy.” However, this did not change anything as they ultimately abandoned the plan.
The latest low-cost carrier to join in on the fun in the skies was LIFT Airline. It was launched in December of 2020, with the aim of being one of, if not the cheapest airline in SA. The carrier offers high-quality service on-board courtesy of the aircrew, which ensures you have a great experience.
However, only time will tell if they’ll be a low-cost carrier that follows in the footsteps of FlySafair or if they’ll, unfortunately, end up like Velvet Sky and the likes. At this moment in time, they’re offering flights for the Johannesburg to Cape Town route and vice versa.
It seems that while South African travellers were disappointed just a few years ago by seemingly empty promises from low-cost carriers, a number of airlines have come to the rescue.
With Mango Airlines, Kulula.com, FlySafair, and FastJet having served low-cost flights in South Africa for some years, there is something to smile about. Plus, LIFT Airline has also emerged to add some much-needed competition between these carriers.
While this may be true, with competition at risk, who knows what's really in store for budget airlines in SA now and in the future. Can new players emerge in a space that has seen a few fail and can the current crop of affordable airlines stick around for long?
With that in mind, it will be interesting to see what SA’s budget airlines are going to do in the future to keep providing affordable domestic flights. Whatever decisions those airlines are intent on choosing, keep saving money while the current crop of low-cost carriers is still around!