Airports around the country have been thrown into turmoil after the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) grounded Comair, including flights on British Airways and Kulula, due to safety management concerns.
Comair confirmed the news but snapped back at the SACAA, saying that there is “no justification for the suspension”.
Four days later, the ban — which was supposed to last 24 hours — has still not been lifted despite Comair’s hope to resume business on Sunday, 13 March, at 12 pm.
South African passengers have been forced to look for alternate airlines to book their travels. However, The Competition Commission has had to step in as other carriers have been accused of exploiting vulnerable and desperate travellers.
Comair’s competitor, low-cost airline FlySafair said earlier this week that it is trying to accommodate as many passengers as possible to ease the burden, adding an additional ten flights on the weekend.
However, South Africans have taken off in response to the steep price hikes for available flights on alternate carriers.
Okay. So #kulula airways is grounded. Can someone explain to to us how #FlySafair just increase their prices the same day. That's like Checkers running out of bread and Spar selling a loaf for R40 next door @kulula @FlySafair pic.twitter.com/ix9Qr66R75
— South African News (@getpetrol) March 14, 2022
“It has now emerged that there are reports and complaints of large increases in price for seats on the remaining airlines some even quoting R5 000 single flight ticket from Johannesburg to Cape Town,” said the Competition Commission’s spokesperson Sipho Ngwema.
Kirby Gordon, Chief Marketing Officer at FlySafair said that costly flights are the result of numerous factors.
“Airlines, especially low-cost carriers who operate on high-frequency routes like us, are generally considered to be what economists call price-takers, which means that the fares we can achieve are set by market forces of supply and demand. It’s not really within our power to simply pass costs on to consumers, but the viability threshold of our business does rise and so there comes a price point where it’s no longer economically viable,” he comments.
In addition, Gordon said that “the oil price has shot up recently due to international developments, and this obviously has a massive impact on the price of jet fuel, which accounts for almost 40% of our cost base.”
Nevertheless, the extreme price of flights is only part of the problem. Other carriers are not keeping up with the fierce demand. FlySafair, for example, does not have a single oneway ticket from Cape Town to Durban available until Wednesday 23 March. ‘Lowest fare’ flights start at R3 281 on this day, with a banner stating ‘Prices going up soon” next to some flights.
To emphasise the demand, oneway flights from O.R Tambo International Airport to Cape Town International Airport are sold out on FlySafair until Saturday, 19 March whereafter flights start at R2 032. Round-trip departing flights from O.R Tambo to Cape Town are sold out until Saturday, 19 March. Prices on this day range between R2 032 and R3 081 for ‘lite’ flights and up to R4 231 for business class.
In response, the Competition Commission said that whilst it “understands that the removal of airlines does certainly have an impact on the airfares, the situation that stranded passengers find themselves in, should not be unduly exploited by other airlines”.