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SAA makes steep cuts to Joburg-CT, Joburg-Durban routes

After cuts on less-popular domestic routes, the carrier takes a hatchet to its jewels.
The Joburg to Cape Town route is particularly lucrative for SAA, given that it is one of the ten busiest air routes in the world. Picture: Shutterstock

From Monday, SAA will effectively surrender the bulk of the group’s domestic flights between Johannesburg and Durban and a third of those between Johannesburg and Cape Town to low-cost subsidiary Mango. The move, announced while the country was leaving the office last year, gripped in Steinhoff panic, won’t happen all at once. It seems, from flight schedules on both carriers’ websites, that the shift will take about in a month. More than 80 return flights a week are impacted.

Although the statement was heavy on jargon (the group airlines will “rationalise their route network for improved efficiencies and optimal aircraft utilisation through a revised airline brand schedule”) and light on detail, the effect on the number of flights being operated by SAA is staggering.

On the Johannesburg to Durban route, both airlines operate 200 return flights a week. SAA flies 112 of those, while Mango operates 88. By mid-February, SAA will run just 68 return flights on this route, with two-thirds being run by its low-cost subsidiary.

On the Joburg to Cape Town route, the changes are less dramatic but still stark. Of the total 278 return flights per week, only 162 will be flown by SAA, with Mango running 116 (from 76 before the change). It must be noted that this route is particularly lucrative, given that it is one of the ten busiest air routes in the world.

New SAA chief executive Vuyani Jarana told Business Day in December that the airline “had been flying wide-body aircraft from Johannesburg to Cape Town and Durban, when these aircraft were in fact more appropriate for long-haul travel”. These changes are part of cost-containment measures being taken by the airline.

Moneyweb reported in September that the airline was being forced to cut its fleet of (then) 62 aircraft by as much as ten. The chairman of the SAA Pilots Association, Jimmy Conroy, told Moneyweb at the time that five leased wide-bodied aircraft would be returned and four narrow-bodied aircraft would be transferred to other airlines (i.e. Mango).

In October, it made similar moves to what its making this week on its Joburg to Port Elizabeth and Joburg to East London routes, cutting the number of daily SAA flights from four to two and three to two, respectively (it seems there has since been a further cut to the East London route).

It has also changed the aircraft flown on a number of regional routes, including Mauritius (narrow to wide, but with a cut to nine from 11 flights per week) and Luanda, Angola (wide to narrow, seven to four flights per week). Other cuts to frequencies have been made, such as Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo) from five to four flights per week.

In September, SAA stated that “flights to Brazzaville, Pointe Noir [Republic of Congo] and Libreville [Gabon] with connections onward to Cotonou and Douala are under review”. Moneyweb had reported in August that these flights would be cancelled. While SAA did not announce these cancellations formally after the review notice, the airline no longer flies to these destinations.

Domestically, the cuts mean that SAA and BA (operated by Comair) operate a similar amount of flights on the Joburg to Cape Town route, while on the Joburg to Durban route, SAA operates the same amount as Kulula (the second-least number of flights across five carriers!).


Johannesburg to Cape Town, return flights per week


Before ‘rationalisation’

Post ‘rationalisation’

South African Airways






British Airways







Johannesburg to Durban, return flights per week


Before ‘rationalisation’

Post ‘rationalisation’

South African Airways






British Airways






Source: Airline websites, author’s calculations. Note: These are normalised schedules. In peak periods, additional flights are operated by all airlines.

It has been reported that SAA was planning on cutting some 700 monthly flights, equating to about 17% of its capacity. These domestic cuts equate to more than half (±360) of this previously reported monthly total.

The airlines operate via a code-share agreement, meaning that SAA customers are able to book either SAA or Mango flights via the carrier’s various channels, including travel agents. This has been in place on all of Mango’s routes for some time (it started with the ceding of the Durban-Cape Town route in its entirety to the low-cost airline) and will simply be extended to include the additional flights.

Hilton Tarrant works at immedia. He can still be contacted at



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Eskom, as a state owned enterprise, still needs to learn this lesson that SAA were eventually now forced to implement – right sizing, cost cuttings and efficiency optimization. The kingpins at Eskom still lives in a fools paradise of adjusting the budget according to their needs instead of adjusting the business according to market forces of affordability, take-up, resistance and tolerance.

There won’t be any progress until the staff complementment is reduced radically.

There is so much dead wood in SAA that you would swear that their planes were made of wood as well.

Myeni’s entire extended family is in there.

SAA needs to cancel the Valpre water deal as this is just ANC cadre corruption money.

That deal needs to be cancelled, and every other purchase that they make. Approximately R26 billion is spent each year of which about half is corrupt. Do that and you are into the black.

……stopped buying Coca Cola products for some time, consider their products expensive and detrimental to health and enviroment and considering their other bottled water, Bonaqua is filtered municipal tap water processed by reverse osmosis and disguised as mineral water upon first sight

SAA management redefines all definition of logic and common sense. Why would you have almost 20 flights a day to a destination 500kms away, serviced by probably the best road on the African Continent(N3)? Oh, right, because Dudu stays in Durban.

Plus why fly to Bloem, let smaller airlines ferry from Bloem to JHB or Durban. The aircraft has hardly reached cruising altitude, when it starts a descent. Besides the time spent at each end by the passenger plus the flight is about the same as driving time on a magnificent highway.

SAA has cut the JHB-Bloem route in the late 1990’s already. It is serviced by SA Express with small (30-75 seat) planes. Granted, SA Express is an SAA subsidiary, but so is Mango.

JNB-CPT had long fallen out of the top 10 routes in the world. It isn’t even in the top 20 anymore.

Hopefully they keep cutting till there is nothing left.

The only way to save SAA.

Isn’t it a bit misleading to say “steep cuts” because between SAA and Mango there were 278 flights to Cape Town (202+76) and now there are still 278 flights (162+116), just that they’re done by the subsidiary Mango instead of SAA itself? Durban is the same (200 flights). There’s no cut, just a different logo…

ANC logic: “Think of all the money we’ll save if we cut all flights.”

……and I am still waiting for SAA’s financial statements……for the year ended 31 March 2017. Section 30(1) of the Companies Act. **wink wink**

I like a good bash at SAA as much as the next person, but this seems like a sensible move. South Africans are price conscious, so moving flights to Mango is smart, and running narrowbodies at capacity for a 2 hour flight would seem to make more sense than widebodies.

IMO – SAA should pull out of all domestic flight routes.
The national flag carrier should focus on key destinations thought the rest of the continents…

I’d rather not have BA being the sole upper class airline domestically, gives all sort of room to then hike prices.

Surely all domestic flights should follow the low cost model? Does it really make sense to try serve food on 45min flights? I think its absurd.

Even the longest internal flights surely dont NEED to have food served but can be available to purchase on request. This would reduce costs and ticket prices. If Europe which is much bigger and richer than SA has most flights now as low cost, surely SA should too.

A little secret – its so much nicer to fly from Wonderboom to Cape Town or vice-versa. None of the Lanseria/ORT terminal crowd nonsense – check in takes less than 15 minutes with one counter and 45 odd or whatever other passengers – parking is cheap and a quick stroll of a minute or so – the ground crew are a lot more pleasant. If you book in advance and are clever enough to manage the limited flights the costs are cheaper – mostly. Even if you lived in Joburg or Midrand, getting to Wonderboom and onto a flight to CT is a breeze – even if you don’t have a blue light escort and all the other perks.

I fear the shift could be over-done. This move seems to assume that all passengers from the cut SAA flights will downgrade to the low-cost airline Mango, and not switch to British Airways as the competing “premium” carrier. If you consider these airlines together with Kulula and FlySafair (also budget) to be fairly representative of the total market, then SAA will be serving a lower proportion of premium flights compared to the rest of the general market, and could start losing customers.

End of comments.





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