Cape Town - South Africa’s connectivity is on the up and up - which can only mean good things for those travellers with itchy feet.
And if the experts’ current outlook for travel in SA is anything to go by, there couldn't be a better time for South Africans to make the most of air travel.
Key trends show air travel is getting cheaper across the board - this is according to Cheapflights search engine data for the December 2016 period. South Africans are getting a better deal for air travel when compared to last year this time, according to the online booking engine's Managing Director Andrew Shelton - all buoyed by having more choice when it comes to airlines, including better reach.
WATCH: SA enjoying the best deals in air travel
According to aviation expert Linden Birns, the number of direct long-haul routes to and from South Africa is nowhere near the high watermark witnessed in the mid-late 1990s, when a record 64 carriers serviced South Africa including some from Eastern Europe, West Africa, Russia, and Latin America.
"Since then, and for various reasons, several have exited the South African market. In parallel, over the same period SAA has whittled down its European and Asian networks (eliminating its flights with its own aircraft to Amsterdam, Lisbon, Paris, Rome, Milan, Vienna, Athens, Tel Aviv, Singapore, Taipei, Dubai and Beijing) and also withdrawing all of its long haul services between Cape Town, the USA, UK and Europe and between Durban and London.
“A number of things have affected the industry since then including less restrictive bilateral air service agreements which now allow for competitive pricing, the erosion of the rand, the advent of more capable new generation long-haul aircraft, and more recently the emergence of the three main Gulf carriers, Turkish Airlines and Ethiopian Airlines, which are re-writing the industry's hub-and-feed copybook," says Birns.
Over the last six months a number of new routes, capacity increases and code-share partnerships have been put into effect in South Africa. Here are a few of the key developments in air connectivity that travellers can take advantage of in 2017.
SA connectivity to South America on the increase
LATAM Airlines launched a direct São Paulo to Joburg route in October 2016. Said to be the leading airline group in Latin America with 115 destinations as well as connections to Europe, United States, the Caribbean and Oceanian - the airline will offer three weekly flights between OR Tambo International in Johannesburg and Guarulhos International Airport in São Paulo, Brazil.
Turkish Airlines also launched new flights connecting SA to Havana in December 2016. Cuba is fast becoming one of the most sought-after travel destinations for travellers across the globe. And now South Africans intrigued by this South American culture can connect to the Cuban capital. South Africans can fly from Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban to Havana via Istanbul. From Havana, the flight will carry on to Caracas, Venezuela, before returning to the Turkish Airlines hub Istanbul. The Istanbul – Havana – Caracas (HAV-CCS) operates 3 times a week.
SEE: SA set for record-breaking summer as visitor numbers surge
Turkish Airlines has however increased flights between Durban's King Shaka International Airport and Istanbul's Atatürk Airport for the duration of the South African summer up until 25 March 2017.
SEE: Turkey: Budget-friendly escapes for South Africans
SA travel to Seychelles sees new direct route boost
In 2016 Air Seychelles added a fifth weekly flight from Johannesburg to their schedule to meet seasonal passenger demand as well as announced plans for a non-stop twice-weekly flights between Durban and Seychelles from 30 March 2017.
SEE: Seychelles: why it is good for the soul
Added to this island escapes for South Africans has been made easier as SAA also strengthened its Mauritius route in May 2016. Mauritius remains one of the fastest-growing economies on the continent with consistent demand-side growth in both business and leisure travel.
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Cape Town to Gatwick direct routes
South Africa is a favourite with Britons year in and year out. For 2016 there was a 47% increase in British travellers searching for travel to South Africa compared to last year, according to Cheapflights data.
Cape Town is consistently rated as one of the world’s number one tourist destinations - and over the past year, in spite of global economic conditions, visitors to Cape Town rose 10.3% from the previous year, reaching 9.7 million. For the 2016 year to date, total passengers are up a further 7.2% against the comparative period last year.
Added to this Cape Town International Airport has been a hotbed of direct connectivity increases in 2016 and is poised to surpass the 10m passenger benchmark this summer.
Thomas Cook is but one of the airlines to add a direct route to the mother city - with a new London, Gatwick route which kicked off on 16 December.
British Airways also added a direct London, Gatwick route in November 2016.
Cape Town appeal boosted with new Frankfurt route
Lufthansa also spurred connectivity with a new year-round direct route to Frankfurt launched in December 2016. Flights depart from Frankfurt every Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. The airline also plans to extend the service to five weekly flights in the European winter season of 2017/2018.
Added to this Emirates also increased its flights to Cape Town in July 2016, with a third daily flight between Cape Town and Dubai. Flight EK778 will depart Dubai at 10:50 and arrive in Cape Town at 18:30, while the return flight EK779 will depart Cape Town at 20:05, arriving in Dubai at 07:30 the next morning.
While the Cape Town flights operate with a 3-class 777-300ER aircraft, come February 2017 Emirates plans to deploy its flagship A380 on its Joburg route.
Ethiopian Airlines opening up SA and Africa's skies
Ethiopian Airlines has just boosted its flight frequency to Cape Town to 10 times per week in December. The Addis Ababa to Cape Town route launched just over a year ago, initially with only six scheduled flights per week. According to Abel A Yimer, regional manager for Ethiopian Airlines to South Africa, the airline is excited about its role as a change agent for Africa, as the largest African passenger network, connecting more than 54 African destinations, having also recently added Windhoek.
SEE: African Union passport will see #AfriTravel spend rise by 24%
Etihad code-shares to benefit travellers
Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, entered into a new codeshare agreement with low-cost airline kulula in October 2016, giving travellers flight options to a number of key cities in South Africa that include Cape Town, Durban, George and East London via Johannesburg. The code share also brings the added benefit of through-check-in and baggage transfer to your final destination.
Travellers can also keep an eye on a codeshare agreement between Lufthansa and Etihad. The arrangement is set to start in January 2017, subject to government approval. Under the codeshare agreement, the German airline will place its ‘LH’ code on Etihad Airways’ twice daily non-stop flights between its home base of Abu Dhabi and Frankfurt and its twice daily non-stop services between Abu Dhabi and Munich, the biggest city in southern Germany.
SEE: South Africa voted 4th Best country in the World for travellers
Airlink ups regional connectivity
Airlink has confirmed it will increase flights between Nelspruit and Livingstone to a daily service, effective 26 March 2017. Additional flights will operate on Thursdays and Sundays. Flights depart Nelspruit at 11:35 and will arrive in Livingstone at 13:10 - increasing the opportunity to experience the best of South Africa's bush and Zim’s Vic Falls attractions.
Added to this, come 6 June 2017, Airlink will increase flight frequency between Cape Town and Maun, Botswana, offering a daily service. The additional flights will operate on Tuesdays and Thursdays - and will extend the African safari option for travellers looking to experience the very best across the continent
SEE: 45 Practical tips for South Africans planning their first 4x4 Botswana trip
New direct flight service between Cape Town and US
Cape Town Air Access (CTAA), a division of Wesgro together with Acsa has done much to restore business confidence in SA through prioritising non-stop flights between Cape Town and a number of key destinations. Also on the cards is a new US to Cape Town flight, pegged to be connect SA to Miami.
Western Cape tourism and business leaders with strong connections to the USA, specifically Florida, have indicated that connectivity is aimed at Miami, the 4th largest economy in the United States and with over 19m residents - but the airline to operate this route has yet to be confirmed.
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