South African Airways is promoting the new Airbus A350-900 aircraft on its New York-Johannesburg route with a sale price of $350 each way on roundtrip tickets. The sale price is good through Feb. 6 for travel through May 16, with blackout dates around Easter, April 10-19.
The Airbus A350-900 was introduced on the route on Jan. 21. It’s the first international route on which SAA is deploying the new aircraft. The airline plans to also put the A350-900 on its Frankfurt-Johannesburg route.
“The A350-900 offers an enhanced product and international travel experience for our customers,” Todd M. Neuman, executive vice president, North America, for South African Airways, told Travel Market Report.
The A350-900 was launched three years ago and is currently being used by several airlines, including Finnair, Qatar Airways and Vietnam Airlines. The new aircraft differs from the planes previously used on SAA’s New York-Johannesburg route in several significant ways.
“It’s a state-of-the-art aircraft designed for ultra long-haul travel,” said Neuman. “As a state-of-the-art twin engine aircraft, we are able to operate it more efficiently. It’s more fuel efficient. With only two engines [as opposed to four on the previous aircraft] it emits less carbon. It’s more environmentally friendly.”
The A350-900 reduces fuel costs by approximately 25%. The new aircraft is also an upgrade to the customer experience.
With a seating capacity of 339, the aircraft has a two-class configuration, with Premium Business and Economy class seating. Premium Business Class has lie-flat seats that allow passengers to stretch out fully for sleep. It also offers gourmet meals with award-winning South African wines and an improved on-demand entertainment system featuring an 18-inch 1080P HD touch screen with many movies and musical selections to choose from and noise-cancelling headphones.
The Economy Class seats are also improved over the previous aircraft with the addition of modern state-of-the-art entertainment systems for every seat with 10-inch screens. Each seat throughout the aircraft is equipped with AC and USB plug-ins.
The new aircraft replaces the A340 600, which is a four-engine aircraft and are now being retired from the fleet.
SAA will continue to operate its Washington DC-Johannesburg route using Airbus A330-300 which is the airline’s second newest type of aircraft after the new A350-900s. The A330-300s have a seating capacity of 249 passengers, offered in the same two-class configuration as the other SAA long haul international aircraft.
The Washington DC-Johannesburg flight stops at Accra, Ghana, en route. Accra replaced Dakar, Senegal, as the midway stop last September. The Washington flight operates seven days a week
Ghana is currently seeing a tourism upsurge that is raising its profile and putting it on an increasing number of hot destination lists.
“Ghana is one of several African countries with emerging economies,” said Neuman. “We are seeing a lot of activity from both the economic and tourism standpoints in Ghana. One of the things Ghana is promoting is the Year of Return. It’s the 400th anniversary of when the first slave ship departed for Jamestown, Virginia. There’s a lot of groups traveling to Ghana in recognition the 400-year anniversary and the Year of Return.”
The stop in Accra provides convenient access to destinations in Western and Central Africa.
“We have interline partnership with a local airline, Africa World Airlines, which has a hub in Accra,” said Neuman. “We are able to offer connections to Lagos and Abuja, Nigeria; Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire; Freetown, Sierra Leone; and Monrovia, Liberia, as well as additional opportunities to connect into Central and West Africa.”
SAA connects to destinations in East Africa via Johannesburg, with routes to Entebbe, Uganda; Nairobi, Kenya; and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. SAA is the largest carrier in sub-Saharan Africa and one of the leading airlines in Africa.
Although South African Airlines is currently undergoing a Business Rescue reorganization plan similar to a Chapter 11 reorganization in American bankruptcy law, American travelers can rest assured that the reorganization will have no effect on SAA’s American customers.
SAA is South Africa’s national carrier, backed by the government, and its continued operation is assured. Although the government is pushing the airline to reduce costs, reorganize and tighten its fiscal policies, it has also designated the airline as absolutely essential to South Africa for its support of both business travel and tourism. Additionally, the government has put tourism near the top of its national priorities, seeing it as essential for the economic development of the country.
So while the airline is likely to be dropping some routes to reduce expenditures, it will not touch the routes that serve the American market, one of South Africa’s most important markets. The routes that are most likely to be cut are domestic South African routes.
“One of the key components to securing funding is the fact that the South African government has identified the airline as a key strategic asset to the country,” said Neuman. “It’s essential to provide reliable air service to markets within South Africa, within the African continent and select international routes. And tourism is one of the key pillars of the development agenda. Tourism plays a very key role in the economic development of South Africa.”
SAA’s reorganization, which began Dec. 5, is currently progressing as originally scheduled. The business rescue practitioners in charge of the process recently announced that they have secured the necessary funding to take the business rescue process through to its completion. The business rescue plan is scheduled to be completed and presented near the end of February. A report issued at that time will reveal the specifics of the reorganization plan.
“There hasn’t been anything announced in terms of permanent route reductions,” said Neuman. “I anticipate there probably will be some, but at the moment I don’t know which routes. In the meantime, other things are being done to reduce costs and preserve cash.”
The reorganization is expected to weed out waste and tighten up the operation of the airline.
“By doing the reorganization it will enable us to put the airline on a significantly sounder footing,” said Neuman, “that will allow our customers to book SAA with confidence in the future.”