Although many people were understandably upset by the news that SAA will withdraw its flights from Cape Town to London on August 15, there is no danger that we shall be left without a direct service from our own local airport. British Airways will continue to provide one all year round and Virgin Atlantic is expected to return with seasonal flights in the summer.
Frank van der Post, BA’s managing director for brands and customer experience, who was in the city last week, assured me that this is one of the airline’s most important markets and it can confidently be expected to put on more than its usual two flights a day during our summer if there is a shortage of seats.
The airline is building up its fleet, as well as carrying out improvements, and there is a good chance that Cape Town will be one of the first destinations to receive one of the 24 Boeing Dreamliner aircraft it has on order.
The Dreamliner has not yet been seen in SA, but it has attracted heavy orders. It has unique new features, including mood lighting that changes with the time of day, and extra-large windows, made possible by the use of new lightweight composite materials in the fuselage.
BA has already taken delivery of six new-generation Boeing 777s, with four more to come. It has also ordered 12 giant Airbus A380s and is almost certain to use one of them on the Joburg route, as Air France, Lufthansa and Emirates already do.
BA, like Virgin, Easyjet and Visit Britain, the national tourism authority, has protested to the British government against the high level of air passenger duty, which rises with the distance flown, discriminating against those arriving or leaving on long-haul flights. So far their protests have had no effect, although Van der Post told me that they were continuing “at the highest level”.
He said the tax had not deterred visitors from SA, who have been attracted by Queen Elizabeth’s diamond jubilee celebrations, and large numbers have booked flights during the Olympics in London. But tourism authorities worldwide have warned that after these and other attractions taking place in the current British summer, there is likely to be a sizeable drop-off in visitor numbers – as normally happens after events attracting more than the usual number of tourists to any city. So perhaps we can hope that this will cause the British government to drop or reduce the tax.
Meanwhile, the airline market is a keenly competitive one and Capetonians have a wide choice of alternative ways to reach Britain from our airport.
I’m told that Emirates has a very large share of our market, with two flights a day to its home airport of Dubai, from where they offer non-stop flights to several parts of Britain, including Heathrow and Gatwick, as well as other large British cities.
In addition to this, Turkish Airlines and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines also fly from here, offering connecting flights to Britain.
KLM, which realised many years ago, before Emirates existed, that Britain has a huge population, many of whom do not want to travel to London to catch overseas flights if they are offered the opportunity to do so from their own local airports, at one time advertised itself in SA as “Scotland’s national airline” because it brought so many Scots here. Rolf Karsenberg, commercial director of the merged KLM and Air France in southern Africa, told me that Cape Town, to which it flies five times a week in our winter, and daily in summer, is always a busy market for it.
KLM was joined in Cape Town by its partner airline, Air France, last summer and both had a busy season, ensuring that Air France will return in spring. So will Lufthansa and its subsidiary Swiss airline Edelweiss, which flew here for the first time last summer.
KLM, Air France and Lufthansa all offer short connecting flights to London, which is also easy to reach from Edelweiss’ home airport of Zurich. – Weekend Argus