SAA drops 'unprofitable' UK route

2012-06-06 08:22

South African Airways passengers flying from Cape Town to London will from August 15 be re-routed via Johannesburg, the airline announced on Tuesday.

While it may be in line with SAA’s route optimization strategy, as general manager Theunis Potgieter pointed out at a media briefing, the announcement has come as something of a blow to Cape Town Tourism.

Mariëtte Du Toit-Helmbold, Cape Town Tourism CEO has responded to SAA’s decision, saying "It’s a great disappointment for the Mother City’s tourism industry and that they fear it could affect tourism arrivals from the UK and the rest of Europe negatively.  

“Whilst SAA’s growth strategy’s emphasis on expansion of routes into Africa and new markets like South America and Australasia is encouraging, the issue of direct air access to Cape Town is again highlighted. Airlines must make economic sense. When a flight is cancelled this is the reason. Decreased business travel, as a result of troubled economies, continues to plague key source markets. The business traveler is a major contributor to covering flight expenses, which points to a need to work hard on forging stronger business ties in addition to the leisure market,” Du Toit-Helmbold added.

Potgieter explained that the decision was based on SAA's long-term growth and business optimisation strategy. This included using its aircraft fleet more effectively by re-deploying some to its growing Accra, Mumbai and Perth routes and by adding Abidjan to the network.

Declining passenger numbers to the UK and increasing airport taxes in that country were some of the reasons for SAA ending its 20-year Cape Town-London service.

Nils Flaatten, CEO of Wesgro commented: "Our research has indicated that the London-Cape Town route still holds strong economic value for the Western Cape and neighbouring Eastern Cape. International airlines identified this and are increasing their capacity during peak season. Many business and leisure travelers from the United States are using London as a connecting flight into Cape Town and we are at risk of losing these visitors, as the traveling time has been extended even further."

He added that a national debate on airlift strategy is urgently required to discuss direct flights into Cape Town International Airport as well as the other regional airports, as poor economic conditions in the global north and escalating fuel prices were making it difficult for many international airlines to remain competitive. "These market conditions would also have an impact on the pricing of domestic flights and the ability to move tourists throughout South Africa," he said.

SAA has two daily services between Johannesburg and London and will be increasing its capacity on these flights by 13 percent through use of larger aircraft to accommodate passengers from Cape Town.

Potgieter said SAA offered up to 44 daily flights between Cape Town and OR Tambo International Airport.

"For South African travellers to European destinations outside London, travel via Johannesburg and Frankfurt or Munich offers significant convenience and cost advantages," he said.

It was also announced that SAA Cargo would re-route airfreight from Cape Town via Johannesburg without impacting on exporters which needed to get products to market in the UK rapidly.

Voyager members who had booked flights between Cape Town and London after August 15th, using Frequent Flyer Miles, would be re-routed via Johannesburg.

"Anyone (else) who has booked a flight between Cape Town and London after August 15th will be re-routed via Johannesburg at no additional charge," Potgieter said.

However, passengers choosing not to be re-routed would be refunded by the airline.

According to Potgieter, serving the Cape Town-London route via Johannesburg will have an immediate positive effect on SAA's bottom line.

"South Africa is among the top five fastest declining visitor markets to the UK, statistics made available by VisitBritain indicate. With declining numbers of passengers using the Cape Town-London flight for onward connections in Europe or North America, the route does not serve any of SAA's network objectives," he said.

"A thorough analysis of the route made it clear that we could use our aircraft more profitably..."

Potgieter said many global airlines were increasingly finding flying via the UK challenging as that country's Treasury had just doubled Air Passenger Departure taxes and air traffic control, and other fees were particularly high.

"The Treasury move has even been opposed by UK-domiciled airlines due to its detrimental effect on trade, travel and tourism. Individual passengers from South Africa must now also pay a minimum of £52 (roughly R685) for transit visas if they are travelling beyond the UK," he said.

Current flight routes between Cape Town and London (according to

Non-stop flights from Cape Town to London

British Airways

Cape Town International Airport (CPT) to
London Heathrow Airport (LHR)

non-stop (11h30m)

Virgin Atlantic Airways

Cape Town International Airport (CPT) to
London Heathrow Airport (LHR)

non-stop (12h00m)

1 & 2-stop flights from Cape Town to London

Even though these airlines stop on the way, they are often cheaper than the direct flights to London.

Air France

Cape Town International Airport (CPT)
to London Heathrow Airport (LHR)



Cape Town International Airport (CPT)
to London Heathrow Airport (LHR)
or to London Gatwick Airport (LGW)

Dubai International Airport (DXB)

Etihad Airways

Cape Town International Airport (CPT) to London

Abu Dhabi

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines

Cape Town International Airport (CPT) to
London Heathrow Airport (LHR)

1-stop (14h00m)
Amsterdam (Schipol)

Qatar Airways

Cape Town International Airport (CPT) to
London Heathrow Airport (LHR)

Doha (DOH)

Iberia Airline suspended flights from Johannesburg from 1 May 2012


Cape Town International Airport (CPT) to
London Heathrow Airport (LHR)

Frankfurt International

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