BY SHAME MAKOSHORI
FOR a tourism-dependent economy like Zimbabwe, there won’t be sweeter news than talk of a new airline reintroducing flights to key destinations.
It is even more exciting if an airline says it is considering a quick return after halting flights — it sends the signal that the attractions that a country offers are not only extraordinary but remain a must experience for tourists — and airlines see business opportunities that keep them hooked.
Regional tourism players were even more delighted on Monday, with news that the South African-headquartered British Airways (BA) ComAir would be making a grand return on the Harare-Johannesburg route.
The excitement was multipronged — a BA return places Zimbabwe firmly back under global spotlight.
Secondly, BA ComAir departs from the region’s hub for air travel, which means whatever way one looks at it, its presence on the Zimbabwean airspace is a good omen.
British Airways ComAir announced its return from March 28 in the middle of a COVID-19-induced lockdown, boosting waning hopes for a transportation crisis when normalcy returns.
There has been an exodus of major airlines recently, citing the deteriorating health crisis in southern Africa, where a more brutal variant of COVID-19 has been discovered.
Global carrier Emirates announced three weeks ago the suspension of its four weekly flights into the Zimbabwean capital, Harare and Lusaka in Zambia as RwandAir pulled out of four southern African destinations during the same week, citing the threat the COVID-19 pandemic was having on health and economies of Sadc.
The Middle East-based Emirates suspended the Harare leg of its Dubai-Harare-Lusaka flights for two weeks until the end of February, while RwandAir pulled out indefinitely, saying it will only know when to return when the infection rate in placed under control.
On Monday, BA reopened bookings for daily flights between Johannesburg and Harare, but it did not disclose its plan for the Johannesburg-Victoria Falls route, another key destination.
All the same, it looks good, especially given reports that the troubled South African Airways will be back on Zimbabwean routes from May.
The airline has introduced one-way fares from R995, including taxes and surcharges, a giveaway.
Desmond O’Connor, executive head of revenue management at BA, said the airline was happy to return to Harare, as it began implementing its gradual ramp-up of its schedules.
BA itself had not been spared from the tight operating climate in the region, where flag carriers in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia have been finding the going though.
He said these flights would offer more choice for those customers who would like to fly to the regional destination from South Africa.
“We anticipate that the reopening of this route and others in future will be well-received by corporate and leisure travellers. We will soon reintroduce holiday packages through our tour operating divisions, which will mutually improve regional tourism between the Sadc countries,” O’Connor said.
BA passengers on Sadc destinations have a choice of Club (business class) and Traveller (economy class), which are known for the airline’s full-service hospitality, which includes a selection of complimentary meals and beverages.
“Customers have a more spacious cabin and can take two 23kg bags on board as a free baggage allowance,” according to online publication Business
“Club passengers get access to the SLOW lounge, priority boarding, pre-flight welcome drinks and additional legroom. All customers can join British Airways’ frequent flyer programme, the Executive Club, to earn benefits and rewards,” the publication said.
It said last week, the airline announced two new routes to East London, South Africa, where fares were 35% lower than those currently offered.
The new services will resume on March 17 and will offer 13 weekly flights between Johannesburg and East London and seven between Cape Town and East London, said Business Insider.
But there is also another interesting angle to developments in Zimbabwe’s aviation space during the age of the coronavirus.
It is the South African airlines that are making the bold moves.
Airlink said recently it will be launching the Harare-Cape Town services on March 3.
“We will launch with three return flights a week, increasing to daily flights from April 1, 2021 to provide customers with more choices and greater convenience,” chief executive Rodger Foster said.
“Airlink had intended to commence the service in mid-January, but changes to South Africa’s curfew obliged us to revise its schedule, which unfortunately also pushed back the launch of the new service to March 3. We apologise to ticket-holders for the postponement and any inconvenience or disruption to their business and travel plans.
“We have been looking forward to launching this important new route, which will provide convenience to business and leisure travellers, saving them precious hours transferring via Johannesburg and also limiting their exposure to potential touch-points, which is a key consideration as we adjust our travelling habits during the COVID-19 pandemic.”