South Africa’s Comair Likely To Liquidate

South Africa’s Comair Likely To Liquidate

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At the end of May 2022, British Airways’ South African franchise suspended flights, as the airline ran out of money. It looks increasingly unlikely that the airline will make a comeback.

Comair suspended flights due to lack of funding

Comair is the British Airways franchise in South Africa, which operates a fleet of Boeing 737s on regional routes. These planes will stand out at airports in Africa, since they have the British Airways livery. You wouldn’t typically expect to see a British Airways 737 in South Africa otherwise (never mind that British Airways no longer has 737s).

In May 2020, shortly after the start of the pandemic, Comair entered business rescue. With this, a specialist practitioner took control of the company, with the goal of maximizing odds of survival, or at a minimum achieving a better return for creditors than if the company were to just outright liquidate.

Unfortunately there was some bad news for the airline early last week. On May 31, 2022 (roughly two years after the initial filing), both Comair and subsidiary kulula.com suspended operations. Ticket sales for future flights were also suspended. As it was explained, the airline was grounded pending successfully securing funding.

At the time it was claimed that the company’s business rescue practitioners advised that the process of raising necessary capital was in progress, and that there was reason to believe that such funding would be secured. If received, the airline would have been able to recommence operations.

As Comair CEO Glenn Orsmond described this situation on May 31:

“We deeply regret the inconvenience this suspension will cause our customers. We did everything we could to avoid it. Comair, the BRPs and the lenders are working all out to get the funding in place so that we can resume our normal flight schedule as soon as possible.

Comair is inherently a viable business. We have the two of the best airline brands in the country. We are on track to carry over 4 million passengers this year and generate R5.3 billion in revenue. We have excellent staff, a modern fleet, good sales and distribution channels and low operating costs, which is why we believe the funding will be secured.”

Comair Boeing 737

Comair unable to secure additional funding

Today (Thursday, June 9, 2022), Comair’s business rescue practitioners have advised that the company could not raise the necessary capital to continue operating, and creditors have been advised that they no longer believe there’s a reasonable prospect of the company being rescued. So while there’s no mention of liquidation, that’s just about the only reasonable conclusion.

I of course feel terrible for all the employees of Comair, who are facing uncertainty at best, or being out of a job at worst.

Comair was losing money even before the pandemic. Then of course the pandemic had a terrible impact on the airline industry, especially in South Africa. Not only did the airline have to suspend operations for some amount of time due to travel and flight restrictions, but South African airlines also didn’t get the generous government support we saw for airlines in the United States.

Then in March 2022, Comair was grounded for nearly a week, after the carrier’s Air Operator Certificate (AOC) was suspended by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA). That decision came after an investigation into several safety incidents at the airline. The airline could once again resume flights after it demonstrated that the risk and safety management systems at the airline were effective in managing potential hazards.

If you’re curious about what the Comair experience was like, check out my Comair 737 business class flight review.

Comair’s quirky 2-3 business class configuration

Bottom line

At the end of May 2022, South Africa’s Comair grounded all flights due to lack of funding. Prior to that, the airline had been in business rescue for around two years, and no longer had the cash to operate flights.

While it was initially claimed that there was reason to believe Comair would get funding to resume flights, that’s no longer the case. Business rescue practitioners now say it’s unlikely the airline will be able to get more funding, suggesting that the airline will likely liquidate.

Did you ever have the chance to fly Comair? What was your experience like?

Conversations (33)
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  1. Brianair Guest

    Wow, seems like South Africa is a black hole for airlines.

    Any word on Webclift Airways? Sounds like it’s becoming another Baltia or Ponzi scheme at this point.

  2. Geoff Guest

    We were booked on Qatar biz connection from Europe to Vic Falls in early July. Upon hearing about the Comair suspension a few days ago, called them to see what they could do to help. The first two times they said nothing they can do as flight still showing as operating. Then asked to speak with a manager and explained that BA was already rebooking people through end of July and not even selling tickets...

    We were booked on Qatar biz connection from Europe to Vic Falls in early July. Upon hearing about the Comair suspension a few days ago, called them to see what they could do to help. The first two times they said nothing they can do as flight still showing as operating. Then asked to speak with a manager and explained that BA was already rebooking people through end of July and not even selling tickets anymore, the airline had posted an announcement on website about suspending operations and the flights for the next day were still showing as “on time” even though all were getting cancelled last minute.

    She was very understanding in the end after a bit of convincing and offered to rebook us on an earlier flight from Europe so that we could make the connection on a FastJet JNB-VFA flight, as otherwise connection would have been too tight. Now we arrive at 4AM and have 7hr layover in JNB (instead of 2hr) and flying economy on last leg to VFA, but well worth it to not have to worry about flight cancellations anymore.

    Doesn’t hurt to ask and be persistent/beg a bit!

  3. Jason Guest

    We had a flight booked with them in July from JNB to CPT. Anyway to get that money back or we SOL?

    1. TravelinWilly Guest

      Call your cc company.

    2. Sean M. Diamond

      If you were booked under the BA code, passengers are being rebooked on Airlink flights or receiving full refunds (I received my refund in 4 business days after applying online).

    3. TravelinWilly Guest

      Believe SA Airlink offer is for travel through 12 June only at this point.

  4. Tim Dunn Diamond

    Kulula is a larger part of the Comair operation than BA branded flights. I have flown Kulula recently and it was ok for an LCC.
    The impact to S. Africa as a whole by this shutdown will be significant. There is a decent domestic air travel market in S. Africa but it will take time for someone else to step in and have an impact.

  5. John Guest

    The SA Airline Industry has really taken a beating. By my count you're basically let with a rump SAA, Airlink, LIFT (with 3 destinations), CemAir, and FlySafair.

    1. Sean M. Diamond

      LIFT only flies between JNB-CPT (2 destinations).

    2. John Guest

      Ah, I thought they had a George seasonal route, but apparently not.

  6. Jasper Guest

    Just as a point of reference: Comair (including Kulula and BA branded flights) represented approx 40% of domestic airline capacity in SA.

  7. MarVer Guest

    They just cancelled my flight from Joburg to Vic Falls for June 10th. While I was able to cancel the itinerary, it still costs me a lot of money. First, the exchange rate has changed since I booked back in March, so I don't even get back what I paid for (in USD). Second, as to not ruin our entire trip and having to cancel our commitments in Vic Falls (which would have incurred all...

    They just cancelled my flight from Joburg to Vic Falls for June 10th. While I was able to cancel the itinerary, it still costs me a lot of money. First, the exchange rate has changed since I booked back in March, so I don't even get back what I paid for (in USD). Second, as to not ruin our entire trip and having to cancel our commitments in Vic Falls (which would have incurred all kinds of cancellation fees), I had to scramble to find alternative flights, which cost me $1,000 more. Is there any recourse for compensation of these damages? Seems like BA is sticking it to their customers by taking reservations for an operator that was not on solid footing. This was not exactly a "beyond-their-control" event; they could have seen this train wreck coming. I'm truly furious with them.

    1. Rufuss C Kingston Guest

      File a claim with your travel insurance.... You did purchase travel insurance didn't you?

  8. Leigh Gold

    Just realized this also has implications for various oneworld connections, not just BA, and primarily at JNB. Just last week I used AA points from a domestic SA city to connect to Qatar Airways in JNB...priced at the same redemption level as to my final destination, as per the oneworld points structure. Sigh. Hope they can fly again. I always like to fly them.

  9. Ben Guest

    Losing the ability to use Avios for intra-SA tickets would be no bueno. On the plus side its now possible to redeem UA miles for Airlink flights!

    1. Jasper Guest

      Reward Flight Saver on Comair was one of the better uses of Avios. Not only intra-SA but even more so on regional flights such as to Harare or Vic Falls where it would otherwise be hard to find a reasonably priced ticket.

  10. Shaun Wood Guest

    The possibility of refunds is remote. At best you will receive a voucher valid for 6 months entitling you to the same flights you originally booked. That is, if the airline is still operating.

    1. Mallthus Gold

      For tickets booked with a credit card (as all tickets should be), a refund from your credit card issuer should be straightforward, especially in the US. US FTC guidance under the Fair Credit Billing Act indicates that the 120 day limit usually based on the transaction date changes to 120 days from expected date of service (the booked flight date) in the event of a service provider (airline, cruise line, hotel, etc) ceasing operations. There...

      For tickets booked with a credit card (as all tickets should be), a refund from your credit card issuer should be straightforward, especially in the US. US FTC guidance under the Fair Credit Billing Act indicates that the 120 day limit usually based on the transaction date changes to 120 days from expected date of service (the booked flight date) in the event of a service provider (airline, cruise line, hotel, etc) ceasing operations. There are some similar provisions in the EU, although some of them are card issuer specific (ie Mastercard in the EU counts 120 days from expected date of service).

      TL;dr - Call your credit card company, not Comair.

  11. Annerie van Dyk Guest

    Does these British Airways cancellations apply to international flights as well??

    1. TravelinWilly Diamond

      It only applies to BA-branded flights that are flown by Comair. So if one has a ticket from, say, Johannesburg to Victoria Falls, you’re out of luck.

      If you have a ticket from Cape Town to London, you’re fine, since that is flown by British Airways, NOT Comair.

  12. Michelle Coelho Guest

    Well you canceled my kulula flight for Thursday the second. I want my refund

    1. Hiro Gold

      I didn't know OMAAT was selling tickets

  13. Leigh Guest

    Ouch and sad. Just came back from a vacation in SA, and flew them between CPT-JNB. I've been fortunate to fly Comair/BA frequently over the years, and always thought they were a very good airline. Hope they make it back.

    By the way, it's really important to note that the sister airline company, Kulula, is also suspending operations....its the LCC airline of the same parent company, Comair. @Ben, you should probably update your post to...

    Ouch and sad. Just came back from a vacation in SA, and flew them between CPT-JNB. I've been fortunate to fly Comair/BA frequently over the years, and always thought they were a very good airline. Hope they make it back.

    By the way, it's really important to note that the sister airline company, Kulula, is also suspending operations....its the LCC airline of the same parent company, Comair. @Ben, you should probably update your post to reflect this, as it's also an important suspension of SA airline service.

    1. Leigh Guest

      @Ben....my apologies...you did mention Kulula in the post!

  14. Jeff Guest

    What does this mean for St. Helena service?

    1. Brian G. Member

      They are no longer the airline serving St. Helena (and their service there never started). 737s were not well suited to the airport, so another airline with EMB operates that route.

    2. TravelinWilly Diamond

      SA Airlink does the flight with a stop in Walvis Bay on the outbound flight from Joburg.

  15. mrl New Member

    Is there an obvious reason South African airlines seem to be struggling so much? When I was booking internal flights for a trip to southern Africa later this summer, the prices were astronomical for the distances—I would think that this would allow airlines to compete/thrive (when compared to similar-distanced routes in Asia-Pacific, Europe, or the US).

    1. Passive Poster Guest

      Domestic flights between the largest cities in South Africa (the country) are competitively priced; flights to/from secondary or tertiary cities are priced no different than if you were trying to fly between two small cities in the US.

      Now if you're referring to flights between countries in southern Africa (the region) then yes you would be correct that the pricing is crazy.

  16. TravelinWilly Diamond

    This blows.

    Comair dba British Airways blew SAA out of the water on short haul Southern Africa flights in terms of service. Goodbye Kulula as well.

    I wonder how Lift Airways will do assuming the demise of Comair, ironic considering Gidon Novick built Comair into the success it was, and also founded Lift.

    We’ll see.

  17. Sean M. Diamond

    Just a point of correction - you say that South African airlines have not received Government aid, but the reality is that just a single South African airline (viz. South African Airways) has received (and continues to receive) more Government aid as a proportion of its revenue than any airline in the USA did.

    1. Jp Guest

      This as is fraud its like stealing my money should be laying criminal charge at police

    2. Yaya Guest

      I think the SAA is different because it is a SOE

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

John Guest

Ah, I thought they had a George seasonal route, but apparently not.

1
TravelinWilly Guest

Believe SA Airlink offer is for travel through 12 June only at this point.

1
Sean M. Diamond

If you were booked under the BA code, passengers are being rebooked on Airlink flights or receiving full refunds (I received my refund in 4 business days after applying online).

1
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