In fact, the fare goes up to $400 for a return ticket including taxes and other charges compared to the advertised costs. It has emerged that the $89 fare is just a marketing gimmick as it only benefits nine early birds out of a possible 120 passengers.
A disconsolate passenger from Bulawayo said the total price of using a Fly-Africa flight to Johannesburg from Bulawayo was actually higher than Air Zimbabwe, yet Fly Africa claims to be a low cost airline.
Air Zimbabwe charges $145 for a one-way ticket to Johannesburg from Bulawayo with a return ticket costing $250. They offer a baggage allowance of close to 50kgs while Fly Africa has a 7kg hand luggage allowance. Fly Africa passengers are expected to fork out about $60 or more for 30kgs of baggage.
“There’s nothing low cost about Fly Africa charges. I was made to pay $278 for a return ticket to Johannesburg compared to $250 charged by Air Zimbabwe,” said the passenger who preferred anonymity.
“Fly Africa only allows one to carry 7kgs of luggage compared to the 48kgs offered by Air Zimbabwe. If you exceed those kgs, they charge you more. At least Air Zimbabwe gives you a drink for free and Fly Africa charges you for that. This sounds like a scam.”
Fly Africa chairman Professor Chakanyuka Karase could not comment choosing to refer questions to the marketing department.
However, an official from the department who requested not to be named watered down the issue claiming her company explained its fares to customers.
“We’ve explained to our customers that our fare for the Bulawayo-Johannesburg route excluding taxes starts from $89 for a one way trip and that the cost was subject to seat availability on particular dates,” said the official.
“The cheapest return flight from Bulawayo to Johannesburg costs $160 with one way costing $89, including tax. The trick to buying these low cost tickets is simple, you just have to book early. After every nine seats, the ticket price goes up so this is why some end up paying up to $400 for a return ticket while others would have paid $160.”
The official said since the launch of the Bulawayo-Johannesburg route, the response from passengers travelling to South Africa on board their aircraft had been overwhelming.
“Our booking statistics for the route since its launch have been overwhelming. However, I don’t have the statistics off hand,” said the official.
The Karase family-owned Fly Africa created a lot of interest in the country’s aviation industry when it launched the Bulawayo-Johannesburg route in February.
It also services the Harare-Johannesburg route, which was launched last November as well as domestic routes between Harare and Victoria Falls in December 2014.
Industry experts have said the growth of low-fare airlines in the country was expected to help grow the tourism sector as travel becomes cheaper and connectivity improves.
The government has adopted an open skies policy, which has seen the entry of two low cost airlines into the local market. It has also relaxed visa requirements for emerging economies in a bid to push arrivals to over 3,2 million this year.
A campaign to improve perceptions of the country as a security risk has been running.
Fly Africa got its licence in August last year and started operations in November.
Another budget airline, Fastjet, last month received an air service permit (ASP) from the government, the penultimate step before obtaining an air operator certificate which will enable the airline to operate in Zimbabwe.
The start-up carrier is already serving eastern and southern Africa, and has pursued an acquisitive strategy to extend its reach. Last year, it introduced flights on the Dar es Salaam-Harare route.
Its receipt of an ASP means that the CAAZ and the transport ministry have approved its business plan, aircraft choice and proposed structure of the planned airline as appropriate to operate and compliant with Zimbabwe’s regulations.
Tourism is one of Zimbabwe’s economic drivers currently contributing an average 10 percent to the gross domestic product.