cheap, on time, and comfortable

Robert Laing

Robert Laing

Next to e-mail and online banking, the biggest convenience of the Internet age is low-fare airlines.

After shopping around the websites of the four main players, I made a booking with 1Time. The flight was everything I wanted: cheap and punctual.

An added bonus was that it turned out to be more comfortable than the economy class of full-service airlines I've flown on. Satisfied as I was with 1Time's service, I had second thoughts about my choice after spending a morning in boss Gidon Novick's office.

Firstly, if I had flown with I could have departed from Lanseria rather than OR Tambo, which would have knocked an hour off the total travel time. Secondly, as a Discovery Vitality member I could have received a discount of between 15percent and 30percent. And thirdly, I would have flown in a new Boeing 737-400.

Novick is the joint chief executive of JSE-listed Comair which operates two airline brands in southern Africa, full-service British Airways (BA) and no-frills

Comair, already rated one of the three most profitable airlines of its size in the world, has a strategy to reduce its overheads.

A key part of this is switching from leased MD82s to owned Boeing 737-400s. Standardising on one aircraft helps cut training and servicing costs.

According to Novick, having the newest planes gives Comair competitive advantage. They are more fuel efficient, and give less technical hassles.

Comair has invested in two 737 simulators to establish an in-house flight academy. This has turned training 737 pilots for foreign airlines into a sideline business. The airline is investing in a fleet of 24 aircraft, of which 60percent are allocated to BA though it carries about the same number of passengers as The full-service brand offers more flights which are less crowded to justify the higher ticket prices.

Novick said: "When we launched six years ago, there were fears it would cannibalise passengers from BA. That never happened. Low-fare airlines have grown the market to double the size it was then."

South Africans can choose between Mango, Nationwide, 1Time, plus the full service and charter airlines. Australia, in contrast, only has two low fare airlines: Quantas's JetStar and Virgin Blue.

This healthy competition has driven innovation. A reason I picked 1Time was I also needed a hired car, and 1Time's website offered a packaged deal with Avis. Buying hotel accommodation, hired cars and air tickets as one bundle online is becoming increasingly popular.

Comair is looking north for growth. It secured rights to fly to London recently, which it will lose unless it gets the service running within a year. Its network includes most southern African cities, and it plans to extend to the rest of the continent.

One of the ways full-service airlines have tried to fend off competition from low-frills competitors is by offering frequent-flyer programmes. has come up with its own branded Visa credit card which pays 3percent of transaction values (double for air ticket purchases) into a travel account.