South African Airways (SAA) has been at the centre of a debate over the viability of state-owned enterprises in South Africa, with the national carrier struggling to run without making a loss. The airline is one of the biggest on the continent, with numerous international routes allowing South Africans to travel globally thanks to SAA’s resources and partnerships with other airline groups.
In this article we take a closer look at 8 things you may not know about South African Airways.
South African Airways is the leading carrier in Africa, serving 56 destinations throughout the continent, including domestic flights. This is made possible thanks to partnerships with SA Express, SA Airlink and its low cost carrier, Mango, allowing SAA to provide travel for customers to 56 places throughout South Africa and across the continent. A total of nine intercontinental routes are undertaken from its Johannesburg hub at the OR Tambo International airport.
In a recent budget speech, Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan made mention of plans consider a proposed merger of South African Airways with SA Express, and partnering the new entity with a minority equity partner in an effort to bring the airline back to profitability. Gordhan said that government should not to be invested in four airline businesses. Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown is exploring the possible merger under a strengthened board.
In April 2006 SAA joined the Star Alliance as the first African airline to do so. The Star Alliance network is a selection of international airlines that work together to ensure quality travel and extended reach of members across the globe. The highly respected network, which was founded by Air Canada, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, THAI and United Airlines in 1997, requires airlines to comply with the highest industry standards of customer service, security and technical infrastructure.
South Africa’s national airline employs well trained cabin crew who are well versed in first aid and safety procedures. In 2015 SAA crew managed to save the lives of five passengers who went into cardiac arrest during flights, with the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED), which has been part of on-board medical equipment on every SAA plane since 2009. The Civil Aviation Authority mandates that all aircraft must be equipped with a first aid kit, a medical kit, and a universal precaution kit, but SAA aircraft also include a state of art automated external defibrillator on board all flights.
The official carrier from South Africa is no stranger to awards, and they are often recognised for their quality on the continent. SAA was the winner of the ‘Best Airline in Africa’ Award in the regional category for fourteen consecutive years and the winner of the ‘Service Excellence Africa’ accolade for three years.
SAA was the official airline of the Association of Tennis Professionals from 2008 to 2013, before the five-year deal as the official ATP airline and title sponsor of the organisation’s world rankings came to an end. SAA was exposed to more than 150 countries during that period, in a deal worth around $22.4 million. Emirates replaced SAA with a new five-year deal at the start of 2013.
SAA cabin crew undego intensive first aid training to become certified flight attendants, with SAA cabin crew trainees undergoing first aid and safety training as one of their first tasks. This continues to be useful, as two passengers have given birth while on board SAA flights, including one on a flght to New York in 2013. On both occasions, pregnant woman who concealed their pregnancies went into labour in the air, and the cabin crew did an excellent job of delivering the babies.
The SAA slogan “Bringing the world to Africa and taking Africa to the world” rings true when one considers the global destinations to which the airline flies. Thanks to a number of code sharing agreements with other global airlines and Star Alliance members, South African Airways flies to 37 international destinations in 26 countries.