South African travellers are reluctant to fly with South African Airways, according to local travel agencies.
The national airline cancelled multiple flight routes in recent weeks, which meant it had to refund regional and international travellers while providing alternative flights for domestic travellers on Mango Airlines.
The severity of the situation has reached a point where SAA has now permanently discontinued all of its local routes with the exception of flights between Johannesburg and Cape Town.
The business rescue practitioners in charge of SAA’s turnaround have also confirmed that the process to get the company back on track will involve retrenchments, further adding to the uncertainty around the airline.
All of these changes have made South Africans apprehensive about booking flights through SAA, according to local agencies and industry sources.
A travel agency which chose to remain unnamed said it continued to support SAA, but with reservation, as it cannot afford to have clients stranded because of cancelled flights.
“We have had clients booked on SAA flights that have been cancelled or moved to another date which became a problem, especially with business clients who have to attend meetings,” the agency said.
The agency said that they had noticed a reduction in bookings on SAA flights because of these cancellations.
“There has been a decline in bookings because clients need to know that they will be flying on a specific date and time which is now not guaranteed with SAA bookings.”
The agency further said that due to the flight cancellations, it does not consider SAA to be a safe partner. The potential financial risk of flying with SAA is too great.
“Insurance companies are also not willing to insure flights booked with SAA,” the agency said.
Other travel agencies
A number of other agencies declined to comment officially on whether they consider SAA to be a reliable option for their travellers.
Sure Travel indicated that it was taking measures to ensure that its customers were kept abreast of the situation.
“Sure Travel is working with its agencies, customers, and with SAA to support the airline with its business rescue plan but also to ensure that clients are well informed and not a risk.”
According to an industry source, stakeholders in the industry are concerned about the state of SAA and the effect that job losses at the airline would have on the sector.
One industry player said it was a pity that there was less reporting on the problems at SAA when the “rot” started, but now that the crisis has reached a point where SAA’s demise could be forthcoming, it is important to take positive actions to save it.
They explained that the ramifications of SAA going under could range beyond the airline itself.
“If SAA goes under it will affect our whole travel industry, from the numbers of tourists coming into South Africa, the cost of internal airfares which will mean fewer people will fly, less domestic holidays, and a lot fewer jobs in the industry.”
Government still providing financing
Despite SAA making year-on-year losses that have totalled tens of billions of rands, the ANC-led government has continued to reaffirm that the country requires a national carrier.
A push by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni and his team to have SAA liquidated was stopped in its tracks after the most recent ANC National Executive Committee meeting.
The ANC instructed Treasury to provide another R8 billion in funding to restructure SAA and establish a new profitable airline under the SAA brand.
The Development Bank of Southern Africa committed a further R3.5 billion to the airline at the end of January as part of a rescue package required to keep it operational.
It remains to be seen if the new funding and the slashing of routes and jobs will be enough to bring the carrier back to life.
However, recovering from the breakdown in trust among South African travellers could be another challenge on its own.