Changes as airlines gear towards festive season
BRITISH Midland International (bmi) is in the process of being sold by German airline Lufthansa to British Airways (BA), which means that it will be transferred from the Star Alliance of international airlines, to which SAA belongs, to the One World alliance led by the International Aviation Group (IAG), formed by the merger of BA and Spanish airline Iberia.
At the same time Virgin Atlantic Airways, which until now has remained independent of any international alliance, has consulted Deutsche Bank over the possible advantages of joining one. Virgin, which flies to Joburg all year round, withdraws its services to Cape Town in winter, returning at the end of October.
In winter its passengers are carried between Cape Town and London by SAA under codeshare arrangements. It could, therefore, be convenient for both sides if it replaced the smaller and less highprofile bmi as the British member of the Star Alliance, particularly in view of the amount of traffic between the UK and South Africa and the number of business travellers who prefer to travel between this country and the US by way of London rather than taking the very long direct flight from Johannesburg.
Virgin, like its rival BA, has a number of convenient flights between London and the US and was not happy about competing alone against a combination of BA, Iberia and American Airlines in the US market.
There have been suggestions that the British government may withdraw its unpopular passenger arrivals tax, which has undoubtedly acted as a deterrent to incoming tourism, especially from longhaul destinations.
Airlines and its own tourism authority have protested against the tax, which was introduced ostensibly to limit the amount of CO2 emitted by aircraft but which in fact is not ring-fenced for any anti-pollution measures but simply raises more money for the UK fiscus. Cynics have suggested that hints that the tax may be withdrawn have nothing to do with arguments against it but are simply because it would be difficult for the government to continue to justify it while joining the rest of the EU in introducing a compulsory emissions trading scheme for all arriving aircraft. Whatever the reason, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and most governments outside Europe are objecting to the compulsory emissions trading scheme on the grounds that Europe cannot tax airlines for emissions outside its own air space. We shall see what happens next year.
Low cost airline Velvet Sky is launching a campaign to point out the advantages of flying to Port Elizabeth from Cape Town rather than travelling by road.
It has started its service on the route in time for the Christmas holidays when thousands of workers leave the city, mostly by bus or taxi, to visit their families in the Eastern Cape. Most of them will have returned before the end of January, when tourists arrive from overseas, some to go on to Port Elizabeth and the Wild Coast after spending time in Cape Town.
Gary Webb, Velvet Sky’s chief operating officer, tells me that the route is already being well supported and the airline is “very happy with it”.
He said the route between Johannesburg and Polokwane, which the airline hopes will attract workers going home from Gauteng for the holidays, has been slower to start up because it has received less publicity but is attracting passenger loads above 50 percent, including some business people and tourists.
Both he and Karen Murray, spokeswoman for Airlink, which also flies between Joburg and Polokwane, said they catered for different markets.
Velvet Sky at present flies only three times a week and caters mainly for a price-sensitive market.
Airlink, which caters mainly for business travellers, flies every day and times its flights for the convenience of passengers going and returning in a single day.