What a joy it is to find an empty seat next to you on the plane in ‘cattle class’, also known as economy.
A little extra arm and legroom, zero chance you’re going to dose off and wake up having drooled on a stranger’s shoulder, and no need for the small talk that can make a flight so tedious.
If you happen to be flying SAA these days, you may well be looking at more than a few empty seats, although I’m not so sure it’s cause for celebration.
Having just spent another R3,5 billion of taxpayers’ money to bail out the airline, the wheels continue to come off at SAA, with many passengers reporting flights that are half-empty.
Trust in SAA has plummetted in recent times, with delays and cancelled flights the order of the day. As the crisis deepens, the airline announced last week that it had cancelled 48 local and international flights, having cancelled a number of low-demand flights on short notice the week prior to that.
In total, the airline plans to scrap more than 100 domestic and international flights, as it enters its ninth year of running at a loss.
Some passenger accounts below, via TimesLIVE:
Marius Basson, who has commuted by air between Cape Town and Bloemfontein weekly for the past three years, said his SAA flight on Wednesday to Cape Town was so empty that passengers were shifted around to distribute the weight evenly. There were about a dozen passengers on board…
Another traveller, who did not want to be named, said she had to pay for a hotel room after her SAA flight from Botswana to SA was cancelled on Thursday.
“We were expected to fly at 6.30pm, but three hours later we were still stuck at the airport. There was no information until we inquired and were informed the flight had been cancelled,” she said.
When there are only a dozen passengers on board a flight, as Marius estimates up top, the airline is haemorrhaging money.
Another traveller recounted flying to Munich, Germany, with SAA, with a plane that seats around 150 having only 60 occupants.
Aviation analyst Guy Leitch had some worrying words for what this means on some of SAA’s busiest routes:
“Flying a half-empty or an empty flight from London is financial suicide. SAA pays around R400,000 in fuel on a flight, in addition to accommodation for the crew.”
He said partly full flights should rather be combined.
If only there were other airlines that South Africans could use, and we could shut down this giant taxpayer-funded money hole.
Of course, it’s not that simple, but the public’s patience with SAA’s financial woes is all but worn out.
For those who currently have SAA tickets booked, it’s worth reading about what happens if your flight is cancelled.
The rest of us can count down the months until the next massive bailout.
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