the South African LCC space has a bit more competition with the introduction of FlySafair, a subsidiary of long-established cargo and charter company Safair. i had a number of choices for my Johannesburg to Cape Town flight, but ended up going with FlySafair because of a combination of flight times and prices (and the chance to fly an airline that’s only been around now less than a month). there have been some upstarts/startups in this area that failed (1time and Velvet Sky) so they do have their work cut out for them.
as a low-cost carrier, they charge for everything, but what do you expect for, thanks to introductory pricing, a round trip flight (2 hours in each direction) that costs $89 US including taxes? like many other airlines that “unbundled” everything, you get charged to preselect a seat and for any checked bags (including heavy carry-ons). in an attempt to avoid some of these feeds, i checked in online the day before.
once online check-in opens 24 hours before departure, you can choose any seat you want, including an exit row, for free — something that would cost R100 (a little under $9) if you pre-book these “extra room” seats. of course, you could always end up on a flight where they’re all taken by people willing to fork over that money, but there were quite a number available on my flight.
i tried to pack my bag to be under their weight requirement for free carry-ons, 7 kg or about 15 lbs, but just in case it wasn’t (though i’m pretty sure it is; i went pretty minimal on this trip), i got my boarding pass from one of the self-service check in kiosks (where no one would ask me to weigh my bag) located around the domestic terminal in Johannesburg. the kiosks, which serve multiple airlines, are very slow, so don’t be alarmed if it looks like it’s not doing anything or has the “please wait” progress bar up for the most seemingly random things.
their counter at JNB, though, should you need it, is located at the very far right. sorry the picture is so meh; the terminal is very underlit, although that might be the eco-chic aesthetic they’re going for. there was no line (or anyone, for that matter, a little after 6 AM for my 8 AM flight — i could easily have gotten here around 7, i think).
i waited for my flight at the Bidvest Sky Lounge located upstairs after you pass through security, which i had access to via Priority Pass. it’s a small one, but there’s hot food available as well as a variety of comfortable seating.
in the air
Flysafair uses the E gates, which are all the way downstairs and are bus gates.
literally just an elevator or escalator ride away once you pass security, the Es are easy to get to and there’s a Wimpy’s down there if you get hungry before you board. they didn’t make any boarding announcements that i could hear but somehow people knew to stand up and get in line. the bus ride was quick, as was boarding.
the plane itself is an older 737-400 with newly-reupholstered seating. the exit rows have MUCH more room than the regular rows, so it’s worth checking in early (or prebooking, for a fee) to snag them. apparently, regulations require at least one person on each side of each exit row, so they moved a guy from a couple rows behind me to the first exit row. note that the second exit row does not have recline buttons (so no recline at all), but i did notice the first one did have the buttons but i’m not sure whether or not you could. also, the first exit row has immovable armrests because there are tray tables in them.
again, tons of room in the exit row. i also overheard a flight attendant talking to a passenger about how there are plans to switch over to slimline seats, but in any case, the exit row is still your best bet if you want legroom (and are allowed to sit there).
the seat belt sign came off super early, i think probably around the 10,000′ mark. this is great for those of us who have small bladders but beware it’s an uphill climb back to your seat!
the inflight magazine had a two-page spread about the airline playing up its history as Safair. click though to Flickr to get a larger size.
the inflight buy-on-board menu. note that it’s cash (South African rand) only. for reference, as of right now it’s R10 = $0.89.
some additional shots from our half-full flight (the blue headrest covers indicate seats with more room):
descending into Cape Town:
arrivals at Cape Town are definitely no-frills — not even a bus to the terminal, but again for $89, i can’t complain!
and finally, a funhouse mirror laviator to end things 😉
overall, definitely nothing to complain about. while service was no-frills, i did appreciate the light load factor (though i don’t know what this means for the future of the airline, but again, sample size of 1) so i could lay down and sleep a bit, and the cabin crew seemed nice enough. i hope whatever changes are afoot in the South African low cost carrier realm continue happening, since more competition means we consumers win!