Airports around the country this weekend were thrown into turmoil after the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) was forced to ground two carriers around safety concerns. Local low-cost carrier FlySafair is one of the few airlines left to accommodate those stranded by last-minute cancellations.
“This weekend’s groundings meant that almost 4 in every 10 passengers due to travel were left stranded,” says Kirby Gordon, Chief Marketing Officer at FlySafair.
The airline rallied to add as many additional flights as it could in an attempt to cater for those in need. “Our fleet was fully deployed on the published schedule, so it was challenging to add more capacity because we simply didn’t have spare aircraft or crew to mobilise at this time,” he explains.
The low-cost airline model was established in the early 1950s and a key characteristic has always been the most efficient possible aircraft utilisation. While carriers like FlySafair can sometimes activate a spare aircraft, it’s generally not expected that they would be able to add many more flights when their fleet being is properly used. However, this is exactly what FlySafair did to add an additional 10 flights this weekend.
Customers left stranded without warning
“Our airport teams have witnessed first-hand the number of people who’ve been stranded by these developments,” says Gordon, who adds, “What makes the situation worse is that these folks are all trying to secure the last seats on available flights, which are generally the most expensive ones.”
Gordon said that not a single FlySafair seat was left empty on Sunday 13 March.
Current circumstances adversely affect the market
Gordon adds that the situation at play is not good for the aviation market at all.
“Many believe that we’d be happy with circumstances like these where we are able to fill our aircraft, but the truth is that it’s bad for the market. Selling those last few seats is good but it doesn’t offset the cost of the long-term damage to the industry. South Africa needs healthy competition amongst airlines and customers need to know that they can rely on their carrier of choice. Unfortunately, situations like this one are not good for anyone in the long run.”