As South African Airways (SAA) cuts flight routes and works on implementing its business rescue plan, customers are abandoning the struggling airline in droves.
According to a report by The Sunday Times, passengers are actively avoiding flying with the airline due to the risk of cancelled flights.
This has led to a sharp decline in the number of passengers on each flight, which results in much lower profitability for the airline.
One passenger who commutes between Cape Town and Bloemfontein every week said that his flight this past week was so empty that SAA shifted passengers around to evenly distribute the weight on the plane.
He said there were only around 12 passengers on board the aircraft.
“In the last six months of 2019, I started seeing fewer and fewer passengers on the flights,” he told The Sunday Times.
A passenger who flew from Johannesburg to Munich said that his flight had only around 60 passengers on board instead of the usual 150.
Cancellations and cut routes
Other passengers are suffering due to the increasing number of cancelled flights and discontinued routes, the report stated.
One passenger flying back to South Africa from China was forced to use a different airline, as there was no SAA flight available.
Another traveller was forced to pay for her own hotel room after her SAA flight from Botswana to South Africa was cancelled.
“We were expected to fly at 18:30, but three hours later we were still stuck at the airport,” the passenger said. “There was no information until we inquired and were informed the flight had been cancelled.”
Aviation analyst Guy Leitch told The Sunday Times that partly-full flights were a big expense for SAA.
“Flying a half-empty or empty flight from London is financial suicide,” he said, adding that partly-full flights should be combined to improve profitability.
SAA’s turnaround plan is highly dependent on R3.5 billion which it recently confirmed it would receive from the Development Bank of Southern Africa.
The SAA business rescue practitioners received this aid with the support of the Departments of Public Enterprises and National Treasury, and said it is sufficient to meet the short term liquidity requirements of the airline for the period until the business rescue plan is published and adopted.
“This plan is required in terms of section 150 of the Companies Act and is the responsibility of the Practitioners,” the practitioners said.
While passengers and travel agencies are reportedly losing confidence in the struggling airline, the practitioners recently urged consumers to continue to book flights with SAA.
“Stakeholders of the airline should now have comfort that the rescue process is on a significantly sounder footing, and that passengers and travel agencies and airline partners may continue to book air travel on SAA with confidence,” the practitioners said.