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Flight delays: How South African airlines compare

Anyone who flies regularly has experienced the frustration of flight delays. It can be utterly devastating - missed meetings, weddings, funerals, concerts, and connecting flights. Too often passengers are told 'too little too late', or delayed due to 'operational reasons. They’re told even less about the compensation they’re entitled to, and how to claim it. So in the spirit of knowledge is power, here’s Consumerwatch’s guide to flight delays.

airplane in sky pexels
Airplane in sky / Pexels

Listen to Thursday's Consumerwatch, or read the details under the podcast.

First of all, did you know that the Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) publishes what the industry calls On-Time Performance or OTP statistics for Johannesburg's OR Tambo International, Durban’s King Shaka Airport, and Cape Town International on its website every month? It’s the main way an airline’s airport operational efficiency is measured.


Airport authorities do it by comparing the airline’s scheduled departure time with actual 'off block' time - that’s when the airline 'pushes back', or starts moving - not the time the plane actually becomes airborne, Interestingly, a 15-minute deviation from the scheduled time is allowed, it’s still counted as an on-time departure.

Each airline’s OTPs from each of those three major airports are averaged to produce their monthly and annual OTP percentage. You can find them here.

Let’s look at the King Shaka International stats for September:

The OTP target set by the airport is 91% - higher than both ORT and Cape Town International, incidentally.

The only airline which exceeded that was FlySafair at 94,8%.

Other airlines:

Airlink - 90.4%
Mango - 84.5%
SAA - 83.3%
BA - 76.5%
Kulula - 67,6%

It’s a similar story at Johannesburg's OR Tambo and Cape Town International Airports. FlySafair had the best on-time performance, both for September and year-to-date, and Kulula the worst.

Asked to comment, Kulula said: “Flight delays are a result of problems with scheduling of maintenance and availability of parts at SAA Technical, which maintains the aircraft of Comair’s two airline brands, kulula.com and British Airways. These problems affect all airlines serviced by SAA Technical. We are actively working with our internal and external stakeholders to address the underlying causes and return our on-time performance to the international industry accepted level our customers are used to.  Our customer relations team is implementing plans to further improve communications to customers when delays occur."

I also asked all the airlines how long a flight delay has to be before their compensation policies kick in, and how they tell their passengers about it and how to claim it. Their responses couldn’t have been more different.

Comair

Comair gave me a response to cover both kulula.com and British Airways, and it was a bit cagey too.

“For competitive reasons, the exact amounts of the financial compensation provided is not generally disclosed. If we are aware of the delay in advance then all Interline and Codeshare customers are contacted pro-actively and advised of the delay so that alternative arrangements can be explored. For all other customers, SMS, and email triggered notifications are distributed after 30 minutes of a delay. If they are at the airport they will be informed that they need to proceed to the ticket sales desk for alternative options, Comair said.

Mango

“Mango proactively offers compensation to guests who have experienced a delay of two hours or more. Our vouchers start at R250 for a 2 – 3 hour delay, going up to R500 for a delay of five hours or more. Guests at check-in counters, ticket sales offices and boarding gates are offered meal vouchers for delays over two hours. Via SMS we tell our guests to contact us about compensation vouchers. When they do, we email them a voucher - redeemable as a discount on a Mango flight," they said.

From FlySafair came a very detailed response which I’ve had to cut down:

“After an hour, we issue bottled water to ensure that passengers are hydrated, and we speak to them about their journey. If the delay is two hours or more, we offer R80 food vouchers for airport restaurants. If the delay is four or more hours we offer customers the option to either wait, get a full refund, or make a change to another of our flights at absolutely no charge (no penalty and no fare differences)."

"These changes can be done at the airport or through our contact centre, email, WhatsApp, Facebook – whatever is the customer’s choice. We communicate with passengers at the gates and via SMS, usually every 20 minutes until we have a new confirmed time of departure, and we also use the Travel Updates section of our website. We create a log which is updated every 30 minutes even if there is no new news," they add.

READ: Durban to London flights to benefit ordinary citizens says MEC

The least impressive response came from South African Airways:

“We offer customers assistance depending on the time of the delay. Each case is looked at on the basis of its circumstances and a decision is made on how best we can assist the customers. Under circumstances where it is clear to us that there will be an operational disruption in the form of flight delay or cancellation, we make use of information that is available to us during booking or which is ordinarily part of customer profile, especially for frequent travellers.”

As I said, all very revealing indeed. Do yourself a favour and check out those On-Time Performance Stats on ACSA's website.

For regular updates follow Wendy Knowler on Facebook. 

In case you missed any of the past Consumerwatch shows, find them below:

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