South African Airways (SAA) has had quite a few years. In late 2019, the company entered business rescue, as the airline had been losing money for years, and that’s not even accounting for the impacts of the pandemic. As part of this, the airline got rid of most of its planes, and completely discontinued long haul service. Fortunately in 2021, the airline emerged from business rescue, though only as a shell of its former self.
Ever since, the airline has slowly been resuming routes, starting with regional flights. In October 2023, SAA added back its first long haul route, to Sao Paulo, Brazil. The airline has now unveiled plans to launch a second long haul route.
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SAA will fly from Johannesburg to Perth
As of April 28, 2024, South African Airways will be launching 3x weekly nonstop flights between Johannesburg (JNB) and Perth (PER). The service will operate with the following schedule:
SA280 Johannesburg to Perth departing 8:55PM arriving 12:20PM (+1 day)
SA281 Perth to Johannesburg departing 2:40PM arriving 7:35PM
The 5,173-mile flight is blocked at 9hr25min eastbound and 10hr55min westbound. The eastbound service operates on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, while the westbound service operates on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. One cool aspect of this flight is that it’s one of the most southerly long haul routes in the world, as you can see below.
SAA intends to use its sole Airbus A340-300 for the route, featuring a total of 253 seats. This includes 38 business class seats and 215 economy seats. SAA refers to the A340-300 as “a marvel in the global skies,” and claims the plane is “synonymous with being spacious, comfortable, reliable, and capable of handling long-distance flights with ease.” Lol…
SAA’s logic for adding flights to Australia
For those of us not intimately familiar with the South African aviation market, it might be surprising that with SAA resuming long haul flights, Perth would be the second destination added back. So, what’s the logic for this route? It’s worth keeping in mind that the airline served this route for many years before going through business rescue, so this isn’t a totally new service.
Here’s how John Lamola, CEO of SAA, describes the logic for this route:
“Besides the global interconnectivity potential of this route, Perth has long been a favoured destination for South African and Australian travellers, with approximately 80% of our target market being visiting family and friends. The recommencement of the route provides an easier and direct passage for both leisure and business travellers, promoting trade and cultural exchange between South Africa and Australia.”
“We are committed to growing SAA into a revered leader in the global aviation sector. Perth is but one indicator of this ambition and gives us confidence that our vision of expanding our footprint to over 20 destinations this year will be realised.”
Lamola claims that adding back service to Perth is in line with SAA’s “strategic plans to scale its operations to a profitable level by leveraging SAA’s unique capabilities as a national carrier with wide body aircraft that can provide South Africa with long haul intercontinental air connectivity.”
The airline also highlights how you can now book a Southern Hemisphere travel package, traveling all the way between Perth and Sao Paulo. Honestly, that is one heck of a routing!
While SAA’s long haul route network is unconventional, there’s something to be said for the carrier’s strategy. The airline is operating in markets where it faces no competition from Gulf, European, or US carriers, which are otherwise the biggest long haul competition to South Africa.
Historically the airline has faced some challenges with both its European and US service:
- To Europe, SAA faced heavy competition from just about all the major global European airline groups, plus aircraft utilization was pretty lousy, since planes generally sat in Europe all day, operating redeye flights in both directions
- To the United States, it’s just such a long flight that it’s hard to make the economics work for a primarily leisure oriented route; SAA also flew to New York (JFK), where it had no connectivity through Star Alliance partner United
As of April 2024, South African Airways will launch flights between Johannesburg and Perth, representing the second long haul route operated by the airline. SAA’s two long haul routes are now both across the South Pacific, and at least have good aircraft utilization and aren’t too long.
While SAA’s long haul network might seem strange to some, there’s something to be said for focusing on routes with limited competition.
What do you make of SAA’s new Johannesburg to Perth route?