You won’t easily find cheap flights to and from SA in the foreseeable future

  • International air travel is recovering after two dismal years of border closures, flight suspensions and strict entry requirements.
  • But airlines, decimated by the Covid-19 pandemic and reeling from massive losses, are lagging behind rising demand.
  • South Africans wishing to travel abroad will have to pay significantly more than before the pandemic.
  • And it’s not just because of the undersupply problem, but also because of the rising jet fuel prices resulting from the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
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International airlines cannot meet the demand for travel to and from South Africa, resulting in stubbornly high airfares, compounded by soaring fuel prices.

After two years of confinement, South Africans are returning to the skies with their eyes on overseas destinations. The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted air travel, with border closures, sudden suspensions of flights and mandatory quarantine measures keeping most would-be travelers firmly on the ground.

And as much of the world has reopened and testing protocols have eased, international airlines, still reeling from $700 billion in lost revenue since the start of the pandemic, have struggled to meet demand.

In South Africa, the number of international passengers arriving at OR Tambo International Airport in the first quarter of 2021 increased by approximately 20% compared to the previous quarter. International arrivals in March, according to data from Airports Company South Africawere at their highest level since the start of the pandemic.

Demand for travel to and from South Africa is recovering faster than supply, according to Oz Desai, managing director of Corporate Traveller, a division of Flight Center Travel Group. Desai estimates that demand, particularly in the business travel market, reached 80% of pre-pandemic levels in March, while supply remained at just 65%.

Demand exceeding supply, as is currently the case, does not bode well for South African travelers looking for a bargain. This situation was repeated nationally recently when the grounding of British Airways and Comair’s flights cut 40% of local airline capacity, sending local airfares skyrocketing and warranting a warning from the South Africa Competition Commission.

“We are currently seeing a combination of pent-up demand and limited supply,” Desai told Business Insider South Africa.

“Due to the Covid pandemic, some airlines have ceased flying internationally, while others have yet to resume full operations. Prices will always be more competitive when demand is below average. offer. This is currently not the case.”

This phenomenon does not only affect passengers traveling to and from South Africa. In the United States, for example, data shows 40% increase in airfares since start of 2022.

And it’s not just the problem of undersupply that makes air travel more expensive. The economic fallout from the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine has drives up the price of jet fuel.

“Regardless of supply and demand, the price of oil is likely to have a huge impact on air fares. Whereas airlines used to revise prices every Tuesday, they now continually adjust fares,” explained Desay.

And while oil price volatility is likely to last for as long as tensions in Russia and Ukraine persist, it’s hard to predict when – or even if – supply and demand will return to normal.

“It’s hard to say if demand and supply will ever return to pre-pandemic levels,” Desai said.

“It’s important to keep in mind, however, that the travel industry is recovering from what has arguably been the most difficult time for the travel and tourism industry. [sector’s] the story. This will undoubtedly lead to unexpected situations. Our industry is on the right track to a full recovery, but it will take some time. »

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