February saw Johannesburg follow Los Angeles and Hong Kong as the third British Airways destination to receive the Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger airliner. Business Traveller Africa’s Ramsey Qubein caught up with Southern Africa Commercial Manager Sue Botes, to get more on the launch of this new service and other related BA news, including some of the airline’s plans for Africa.
Q: How will the A380 launch affect existing schedules, and why did you choose Johannesburg?
A: We have a strong history serving South Africa and the African continent as a whole. This has created loyalty between British Airways and local travellers that we are very proud of, and which led to the A380 coming to town. We operate a schedule of 17 flights a week from O.R. Tambo to Heathrow. In February the A380 started flying three times a week, but this month (March), that is being upped to six times a week. There will be a double-daily service – down from the previous triple-daily service on certain days – but it is a boost in overall seat numbers on the route.
Q: What can travellers expect if it is their first A380 experience?
A: Firstly, it is astonishing how quiet this aircraft is at all stages of flight, especially during take-off and landing. And all classes of service have received an upgrade. The First Class experience has the airline’s latest bed product with separate side closet for storing jackets or small bags, windows with electronic Venetian blinds, dine-on-demand service, bespoke cotton pyjamas, and even a beautiful lamp at the foot of the bed. Club World is larger than the Boeing 747 aircraft, with seating both upstairs and downstairs composing a maximum of 97 seats. The popular inflight cafe and larder is even larger than before. World Traveller Plus passengers can experience our latest Premium Economy product with a more comfortable seat and larger entertainment screen boasting thousands of hours of audio and video content, including full box sets of your favourite programmes. World Traveller also enjoys a bonus, with a similarly modern entertainment system.
Q: Any new lounge plans for South Africa?
A: We recently unveiled a new Galleries-inspired lounge product in Cape Town that has received exceptional feedback from customers. It features separate First and Club World areas and is a great sense of pride for our staff in the new international terminal. Our Johannesburg lounge is set for refurbishment in late 2014, which will give it a refreshed and even more contemporary look.
Q: Speaking of Cape Town, any plans for the A380 to ever touch down there?
A: The A380’s future travel schedule is in the works, and we have no news about its upcoming plans. With that said, Cape Town is showing exceptional demand globally for tourists and business travellers. We offer a daily service during the winter months between Cape Town International and Heathrow, but beginning in May, there will be 10 services between the two airports for the first time in winter. Of course in summer, we will continue our double-daily service.
Q: What about British Airways’ plans for the rest of Africa? Might other cities see new or increased service?
A: Yes, absolutely. We are always monitoring the demand between Africa and the rest of the world, and how we can make the travel experience across Heathrow comfortable and pleasant. We will upgrade our Accra, Ghana service to a Boeing 747-400 aircraft. In addition, we plan to boost frequency to 10 flights a week, which is up from seven previously. Entebbe, Uganda will see an additional flight per week to Heathrow, and a fifth weekly service to Tripoli, Libya is planned.
Q: The British Airways route map offers several new destinations that have grown the network in unique ways. What caused that jump in destinations?
A: BA acquired the routes and aircraft of bmi (formerly British Midland International), which immediately added new services to our global reach, including Freetown, Sierra Leone and Alexandria, Egypt. It also gave us exceptional growth in Central Asia and the Middle East, which are important destinations for many of our Africa-originating passengers. The former bmi aircraft (mostly Airbus A321s) give us extensive flexibility to operate on routes that may not have had the demand that our widebody aircraft require. The strength of the BA network and our Executive Club programme help to stimulate new demand as well, which is partially responsible for our adding a fourth frequency between Freetown and Heathrow. This service also continues to Monrovia, Liberia, a destination that was not recently served by BA before the bmi acquisition.