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February 21, 2019

G-Spot: It’s madness that it is cheaper to fly from Cape Town to Phuket in Thailand than to Nairobi

Kenya Airways plane at the Moi International Airport
Kenya Airways plane at the Moi International Airport

At the start of this year, there was much excitement generated by the announcement that finally (talks had been going on since 1999 ) the AU’s Single African Air Transport Market initiative had come into operation.

It was exciting news because in theory, this would mean the lowering of airfares and the ease of access for travellers wanting to travel within Africa, from one country to another.

I had fantasies of the emergence of competitive low-cost carriers driving down the price of flights between countries on the continent, which would lead to cheap trips and holidays to some of the places I have always wanted to visit and explore.

Growing up in the days when to travel from Nairobi to some cities in West Africa, for instance, one had to first fly to Europe, I was excited that now all it would take would be saving up for the price of a ticket and accommodation on the other side. 

As for visa headaches, I was one of those who in 2016  had hoped against hope that the promised “visa-free Africa” plan by the AU would be fast-tracked into reality by most countries.

Looking back, I realise that at the time, I must have been on some medication or something to even think that any such easing of travel restrictions in Africa for Africans would be imminent. 

Two years later, less than half the continent’s 54 countries have taken any real steps to make travel easier for Africans wanting to visit their own continent. Even though I often complain about the authorities in Kenya, at least as a Kenyan, I can be proud that my country was among the first to relax visa requirements for other Africans.

I got to thinking about the cost of intra-African travel recently when I looked at the price of a flight from Cape Town to Nairobi. Of course, first I looked at Kenya Airways, where the price of a direct flight ( 7 hours 30 minutes and 4,100 km) was R9,629 (Sh78,305 ). 

Looking for something a little more friendly to my wallet, I considered Ethiopian Airlines, which came in at R2,220 (Sh 18,053 ) cheaper, but with a stopover at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa. 

This would add on at least another five hours to my trip, not to mention the time taken in transit. That might not have been so bad if it included even just a day and night in the Ethiopian capital, which would allow one to do one of those “24hrs in…” visits and see something of the city, but no such luck.

At the same time, I looked at the price of a trip from Cape Town to Phuket in Thailand — about 16 hours — on one of the world’s best airlines, Singapore Air. That flight would be a distance of 9,576km, with a change-over at Singapore’s Changi airport. But the price of R,7990 (Sh54,976 ) would also include a week’s bed and breakfast stay at a three-star hotel, complete with pool and luxury spa.

We’ve got to be doing something wrong, don’t you agree?

Poll of the day