Whilst not on a regular Velvet Sky flight – this was the inaugural trip to Durban (the new airline’s home base) with all dignitaries on board – I still travelled on what was a scheduled departure service, taking off mid-morning from ORT, which meant that all regular passenger procedures were undertaken.
Check-in was a little unusual inasmuch as the airline (being new) was using a handwritten boarding card procedure – which is soon to be replaced by an automated system – and was actually just as quick as any ‘regular’ check-in. Three desks, centrally situated in the domestic departure terminal B, were well signposted and staffed by keen and smiling representatives. So far, so good.
Onboard & Services
Velvet Sky is ultimately to run three 737-300 aircraft, leased from international aviation company Aergo, on its two primary routes which link Johannesburg with both Durban and Cape Town. The fleet is being maintained by SAA Technical (whose executives were with me on the inaugural flight) and is a company considered as the most advanced aircraft maintenance provider on the African continent. Velvet Sky has achieved South African Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) approval, as well as an Air Services Licence and complies with all relevant South African safety benchmarks, which are acknowledged as being amongst the most stringent in the world.
My aircraft (the airline’s first plane in service) was a 148-seat economy class configuration offering two rows of three seats each with a reasonable seat pitch. I found the distance between seats to provide a little less space than one gets on competitors on national carrier or other mainstream domestic offerings, but was comfortable throughout the 50-minute journey. A good tip would be to ask at check-in to be seated in either Row 1 at the front or Rows 12 and 13, being the emergency exit rows, all three of which offer additional leg room.
Onboard services run to complimentary water, juice, tea and coffee, while the food menu comprises a series of sandwiches being offered at R30 a meal, which must be pre-ordered for inflight service (giving you a web voucher to redeem on-board), as no cash is handled on the flights. The sandwiches are pleasant enough, too. Lounge access through Rennies lounges is also being offered as an add-on passenger service at R100 per passenger flight segment.
All flight (and any food) bookings must be done through the airline’s website and work on a straight credit card payment system. Debit cards may not be used at this time for bookings and all credit cards used for booking must be present at the airport at the time of check-in.
Currently, no online seat reservation or frequent flyer programmes are available, which may pose an interesting challenge when it comes to luring business as opposed to leisure travellers, yet the keen pricing may well obviate interest in such add-ons.
To my mind, Velvet Sky is unashamedly competing on a low-price model and has limited departure times which traditionally attract the leisure market first and foremost. I feel this young start-up may well also steal smart-thinking or progressive SME business executives away from the legacy carriers, owing to its competitive pricing, yet its departure/arrival schedules and the issue of an on-hand credit card availability represent potential stumbling blocks.
I for one am intrigued and excited about the issue of additional competition enabling a better choice and ultimate deal for all passengers, yet as a seasoned business traveller whose clients often book my flights – turning up at the airport with a credit card is a policy which is therefore too restrictive for me.
Owned by Cecil Reddy, a Durban-based businessman, and several other local directors (none of whom are political appointees or politicians) Velvet Sky is notably, however, South Africa’s first 100% Broad Based BEE airline carrier, which in itself may be enough to lure potential business travellers who are keen to increase their own company procurement from black-owned businesses.
An introductory but limited seat special of R400 return between Johannesburg and Durban as well as an R800 return fare between Johannesburg and Cape Town is currently being advertised. At the time of writing, Business Traveller Africa attempted a web booking for some six weeks hence on a Johannesburg-Cape Town return basis and was offered a fare, excluding lounge access and meal service, of some R1260, taxes included.
flyvelvetsky.com for full information