Monday, September 12, 2016

A Trip Report: Flying LCC's in South Africa - Mango Airlines and Kulula.com

Flying LCC's in South Africa:  
Mango Airlines & Kulula.com (Aug/Sep 2016)
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

Fly low cost has it perks and challenges, but low-cost carriers are so wide spread and now cover destinations that the main carriers do not serve (or have leased out this route to their LCC partner).   When flying domestically within South Africa, the majority of the flights were operated by low-cost carriers.  There are two dominant LCCs in South Africa – Mango Airlines and Kulula.com.  Mango Airlines is the low cost arm of South African Airways, while Kulula.com is part of ComAir which is a part of British Airways.  We were flying between Johannesburg and Cape Town, and between Johannesburg and Durban and on both sectors the most convenient, and cost effective option, were on low-cost carriers.  I wanted to try both options so we choose the following: Mango for Johannesburg to Cape Town; Kulula.com for Cape Town to Johannesburg; and Mango for Johannesburg to Durban and return.


My experience with LCCs is that it’s better to book earlier in order to get the cheapest fare, as usually prices continue to increase from there.  Because I am based in the U.S., I used a U.S. based travel website to book the flights.  I used this method for 1) to ensure that my credit card was charged in US dollars, thus eliminating any international transaction fee and any currency conversion fee; and 2) booking through this method also allowed me to pair Mango on the outbound and Kulula.com on the return all on one ticket.  I used the same method to book the Johannesburg to Durban flight, even though both sectors by operated by Mango.  I have previously done this when booking international travel, and usually this works out fine in terms of price and convenience – but it did not work this time in terms of price.  In the time between flight booking and flight departure Mango had many sale fares.  The price for my Durban flight dropped at least three times, but because I had booked through a third party I had no recourse in terms accessing the sale fares.  Another issue I came across is that as Mango is a low-cost arm of South African, so the flights can either be booked directly through Mango or as South African Airways operated by Mango Airlines.  My flights were booked as the later, so any changes or modifications that needed to be made were done by South African rather than through Mango. 

Both Mango and Kulula operated a similar low-cost model.  This meant that they both offered lower fares than their competitors, both charged for pre-assigned seats (free seat selection was available at check-in 24-hours prior to your departure), and both offered a basic on-board service with buy on-board options.  They also both operated the same aircraft, Boeing 737-800s.  What was different about these low-cost carriers was that included in your ticket was a small carryon plus 20kg of checked baggage.  Most low-cost carriers usually charge for checked baggage, so the fact that these were included was a nice bonus (and even though my luggage was below the allowance, the attendants were not that strict about the luggage adherence).  Despite the similarities, each airline offered a unique flight experience; some good, some bad.

Our first flight was with Mango Airlines from Johannesburg to Cape Town, with a flight time of 1hr 45mins.  We checked into our flight 24-hrs prior and were able to pre-select our seats at no cost.  There were a lot of choices and we were able to get two aisles in rows 3 and 4.  Even though it was a domestic flight and you only needed to be there 1 hour before departure, we were extra cautious and arrived 2 hours early.  There was no one in the check-in line and we were able to easily and quickly drop our bags off and head through security to our gate.  Boarding started 30 minutes prior to departure, and Mango used both the forward and rear doors to board – those seated in the back boarded through the back door via the stairs while those in the front boarded via the jetbridge.  This allowed for faster boarding ensured all passengers were boarded and ready to go in time for our scheduled departure.

On board, Mango offered a very nice product.  The color scheme made the plane looked new and fresh, and the plane was relatively clean so it provided a good first impression.  The seats were very comfortable – they were slim-line seats but had enough cushion to provide a decent seat for the flight.  The seats were also pre-reclined which allowed for great legroom; in fact the legroom was one of the best I have ever experienced on any airline.  I am tall (6’1) and the leg room was definitely enough for me – I had room to spare even. 

As it is a low-cost carrier, the on-board service was sparse.  Mango operates a buy on-board product, so if you wanted anything from water to food it had to be purchased.  Snacks and drinks were always available, while food availability was dependent on the flight time.   To pass the flight time, the airline did show some variety programs (prank shows) on the overhead screens, had their airline magazine available in the pocket, and offered free newspapers at the check-in counter.  Other than this, it was up to you to provide your own entertainment.  Wifi was available at a charge, but I did not try it out.  Overall, Mango provided a decent low-cost experience.  They offered inexpensive fares and for that low fare you got a decent product with comfortable seats and above average legroom.  It was a pleasant experience on-board Mango. 

On our return trip, we decided to try kulula.com from Cape Town to Johannesburg.  The flight time was again 1hr 45minutes, and 24-hrs prior we checked in and selected our seats at no-cost.  We arrived at the airport early and again there was no line so it was quick and easy to drop off our bags and head through security.  The scheduled time for boarding and the flight came and went, but we were in line with no announcement from the airline.  There were other flights that were delayed and taking off at the same time, and apparently the airline cannot operate two flights at the same time (or that are how it appeared); because only after sending off that flight did they start the boarding process for our flight.  The airplane was parked at a remote stand, so we boarded the buses at
the time our flight was supposed to take off.   The buses took us to the remote stand where we boarded our flight.  On-board, the plane was dirty and the seats were worn out.  The slim-line seats had little to no padding and made it a very uncomfortable flight.  Even though the seats were pre-reclined, there was no legroom at all in between the seats; my knees were literally hitting the seat in front of me.  It was an extremely uncomfortable and tight seat.  The on-board service was similar to that of Mango’s in that they had a buy on-board product, they showed some variety programs (again, prank shows), you could read the airline’s magazine (if you could find it), or you could get the free newspaper at the check-in counter.  Overall, it was not a pleasant experience with kulula.com given the uncomfortable and tight seats.  Also, the plane was dirty and the seats looked worn out.


I was able to experience Mango Airlines again from Durban to Johannesburg (I was also supposed to take it from Johannesburg to Durban, but I changed my flight to experience South African Airways domestic product – and the review of that flight can be found under South African Airways).  This flight was only 45 minutes but the experience, and the seat quality and pitch, were the same as my earlier flight on Mango.  Overall, it was a pleasant experience. 

In the end, flying two different LCC's in South Africa was very interesting.  Both carriers are associated with legacy carriers, something that you do not see very often, and both include free checked luggage and free newspapers as part of their offerings.  Despite these similarities, their on-board products are very different.  Flying on-board Mango does not feel like a LCC as they provide comfortable seats and ample legroom, but they only offer buy on-board so this reminds you of their LCC model.  Flying on-board Kulula.com and you feel like you are flying the 'stereo-typical LCC' with cramped and uncomfortable seats.  Both offer low-fares and are mostly serving the domestic South African market, so whichever you take - happy flying :)

1 comment:

  1. for additional pictures of both Mango Airlines and Kulula.com, check out my youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7Iw3GoRNTirtp9qDaQ7yCQ

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