Hurry up and wait: SAA will no

SAA will not be restarting flights to London yet. Image : Unsplash

Hurry up and wait: SAA will not return with London flights anytime soon

South African Airways (SAA) will not resume flights to London despite the surge in demand for tickets between South Africa and the United Kingdom.

Hurry up and wait: SAA will no

SAA will not be restarting flights to London yet. Image : Unsplash

The recent lifting of the travel ban against South Africa and the removal of South Africa from the UK’s red list has led to a surge in demand for air tickets between the two countries. The national carrier will not however be relaunching flights to the UK at this moment.

This might come as a disappointment to SAA Voyager members who were hoping to redeem miles for flights to overseas destinations such as the United Kingdom.

UK-based carriers British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have already announced increased frequencies of their flights to Johannesburg, as well as the resumption of their services on the Cape Town route. These adjustments come as a consequence of the increase in passenger bookings between the United Kingdom and South Africa.    


The United Kingdom was South Africa’s top tourism source country, with close on 440 000 Brits travelling to South Africa in 2019. SAA operated daily flights between Johannesburg and London prior to the onset of the pandemic.

The current spike in demand for flights between the two countries has pushed flight prices up significantly. The rise in demand for flights on this important route might have been an ideal opportunity for SAA to restart its flights on the Johannesburg-London route. 

SAA recently announced that it will resume flights to Mauritius in November. However, the airline will not be restarting long-haul flights to the UK just yet. SAA intends to relaunch its intercontinental route network in a cautious and calculated way.


South African Airways’ Chief Commercial Officer Simon Newton-Smith told Biznews that the airline has the necessary aircraft, the airport slots, and required licenses to operate flights to the United Kingdom but that it would not be wise to restart the route at this moment. 

“We could jump on that bandwagon. We’ve got aircrafts that can fly to London. We still have the slots and still have the licences. We could do it but it would not be the most prudent thing to do for the longer term,” he said.


Newton-Smith said that it is not in the interests of South African Airways to resume its London flight schedules yet, despite the sudden surge in demand for flights between the two destinations.

He said that the airline is only likely to resume the route when sustained demand for such flights returns, which he predicts will to occur only from the middle of next year.  

“The removal from the red list in the last week is undoubtedly going to create a surge in short-term demand, but we shouldn’t confuse the short-term surge with the underlying trends, and all of the indicators are that it’s going to be well into 2022, if not 2023, before we see any global normalising of leisure long-haul travel demand. So we’ve got to be really careful,” Newton-Smith said.


South African Airways has a responsibility to both its customers and South African taxpayers. It is expected for the national carrier to operate prudently so that it is no longer a financial burden on the South African taxpayer for funding.    

“We won’t necessarily be rushing to put aircraft back into the UK, into the US, and the long-haul routes. The underlying economics have got to be stable for longer than a short-term spike,” he said.


SAA will use partner airlines to feed incoming passengers into its small route network, which is currently made up of one domestic route and a handful of regional destinations. South African Airways already has agreements with airlines in the Star Alliance group, as well as Emirates and Kenya Airways. 

“So, part of our strategy will be working with partners to help folks from the UK get into South Africa and then connect to the South African Airways network, as well as the other airlines,” he said.