Beefing up


British Airways will begin f lying three times a week direct from London Heathrow’s Terminal 5 to Durban, from 29 October, using the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner. The route expansion comes as BA rolls out a $6.1 billion, five-year customer investment plan, with a focus on excellence in the premium cabins. BA’s Commercial Manager for Southern Africa, Sue Petrie, was on hand to elaborate on these developments.

Q: What was the business case behind the recent launch of your Durban service from October?

A: We constantly evaluate all our routes. With its beaches, game reserves, golf courses and myriad activities, KwaZulu-Natal has plenty to offer tourists. We also believe there is potential for outbound demand as KwaZulu- Natal businesses seek to grow their presence or expand to markets in the UK and beyond. We would expect some outbound VFR and leisure travel. As we’ll be the only carrier operating directly to the UK, we would anticipate becoming a preferred carrier for these customers.

Q: What role did the KwaZulu- Natal government play in making this route a possibility?

A: The government and the national and provincial departments of tourism have been encouraging us to consider direct services to King Shaka International for some time. Both national and provincial government were very supportive of the decision and provided the platform to make the announcement at Indaba.

Q: London Heathrow faces stiff competition from the likes of the Middle Eastern carriers and their home bases for ‘world hub market share’. Is the launch of the Durban service also an attempt to ensure more hub traffic through London?

A: No. It’s based on our belief that it’s a commercially sustainable route.

Q: What’s your broader view on African airline traffic and the state of the African airline industry?

A: This is the second new African route we will start this year. In March we began f lying twice weekly to Seychelles from Heathrow. We also expanded the three Gatwick-Mauritius services to five a week. We have added more seats to Lagos. We’ve provided improved lounge facilities in Nairobi, with an upgrade to the Johannesburg lounge to follow later this year.

Q: Are we genuinely getting closer to an ‘open skies’ situation, or does this remain ‘pie in the sky’?

A: This is probably a question better put to carriers f lying between African countries than between African and the UK or Europe. What we can say is that South Africa has taken a much more liberal approach to international air services over recent years.

Q: Is BA looking at launching any new African routes in the near future?

A: As mentioned, we’ve started f lying to Seychelles, have upped the frequency to Mauritius and capacity to Lagos. We’d usually announce new routes around the time they open for booking.

Q: How would you compare the different business class (Club World) experiences on your Dreamliner and Boeing 777 services to South Africa?

A: The 787 is fitted with the most up-to-date version of our Club World cabin. We’re currently in the process of refurbishing the Boeing 777 f leet based at Gatwick. These aircraft operate to Cape Town over the busy summer season. We’ve also recently introduced new bedding in all our Club World cabins, including those on the 747s, provided by premium lifestyle brand, The White Company. In addition, we operate one of our most modern aircraft, the A380 to Johannesburg.

Q: Technical innovation and advancement appears to be a priority for BA. Is that fair to say?

A: Yes. For example, we are trialling biometric technology to speed up boarding and arrivals processes in Orlando, Los Angeles, Miami and New York. BA is the first and only airline to use this particular technology to board international f lights. Customers in Orlando are joining those f lying with BA from Los Angeles who have been using the boarding process since November. The gates at Los Angeles Airport, used by BA, have resulted in the airline boarding more than 400 customers in only 22 minutes – less than half the time it takes when not using this technology. The biometric boarding gates remove the need for travellers to present their boarding pass and passport at the departure gate, simplifying and speeding up boarding. Customers simply look into a camera prior to boarding, wait for their biometric data to be verified, and walk onto the aircraft. Similar to facial identification built into mobile phones, the biometric e-Gates use high-definition camera technology and allow customers to pass through by recognising their unique facial features and matching them with the passport, visa or immigration photos.