Less than three weeks after taking to the skies again, South African Airways (SAA) is already facing a backlash from staff, cancelled flights, and support problems.
Only days after relaunching flights on 23 September 2021, SAA made significant changes to its new international schedule.
Some flights to Kinshasa and Lusaka were cancelled, and the airline delayed the launch of daily flights to Maputo.
Testing by MyBroadband further revealed that the airline’s support services — specifically its refund department — are not operating.
Calling the SAA’s refunds helpline triggers an automated message, after which the call is disconnected.
A reservations agent told MyBroadband that the SAA Refunds Department had been closed down, and they could not assist with any refunds.
MyBroadband contacted SAA’s communications department for clarity about this issue, but the request for comment went unanswered.
In the latest blow to the airline, SAA workers represented by the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) and Numsa will picket outside the Airways Park office in Kempton Park on Tuesday.
These workers are unhappy about unfair working conditions, including a 35% pay cut and the airline’s bloated management structure.
SACCA President Zazi Sibanyoni-Mugambi said that while their members had to take a 35% pay cut, SAA management has increased their salaries.
She added that employees who have taken voluntary severance packages are being employed again when current SAA employees can fill those positions.
“The biggest concern to us is that we have an SAA CEO who refuses to see the unions,” Sibanyoni-Mugambi said.
To make matters worse, there is no deal yet between the SAA’s new equity partner, Takatso Consortium, and the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE).
The Takatso Consortium is set to take a 51% shareholding in South African Airways and pump billions into the struggling airline.
This deal has not happened yet, which means Takatso is not currently involved in any SAA operations.
Speaking to Moneyweb on 29 September, Takatso CEO Gidon Novick said he naively thought the deal could be done a lot quicker.
Novick dismissed speculation that Takatso’s shareholders — Harith and Global Aviation — withdrew from the process.
“Both are involved. Harith is the key strategic funding partner, and Global and the team at Lift are involved as technical partners. So, it’s very much in play, very much intact,” Novick said.
Novick could, however, not commit to a timeline on when they will make a deal with the DPE.
It means SAA is currently operating without its promised equity partner, it has staff and union challenges, and its customers are faced with uncertainty about flights and support services.
This is familiar territory for South Africans who are tired of funding a failed airline gutted by mismanagement and corruption, and which burned through billions in bailouts.