A new deal signed between SAA and Emirates will expand SAA’s international network to over 100 destinations, which can now be sold on a single ticket, while Emirates gains access to over 50 African destinations in the sub-Saharan region.

At present, SAA’s international network includes direct flights to Washington, New York, Munich, Frankfurt, London and Hong Kong, and Emirates has just over 20 direct flights into Africa, including Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban as well as Harare and Lusaka, in southern Africa.

The deal, which was signed toward the end of last year and expands the existing commercial agreement and codeshare, is expected to come into effect on April 1, subject to government approval.

“SAA is recognised as an Africa specialist in markets around the world, and therefore when buying tickets inbound into Africa, SAA’s tickets offer enhanced connecting points on the SAA domestic and regional network,” Tlali Tlali, SAA head of department: Media Relations, told Tourism Update. He added that in addition, the codeshare enhancement would allow SAA to once again offer the first-class cabin product on SA code.

The deal could significantly grow the number of SAA passengers that fly on Emirates on SAA tickets, which was 90 000 in the previous financial year.

Rodger Foster, CEO and MD of Airlink, sees this as a great move for SAA and Emirates. “This should’ve been done years ago.” He adds that the agreement, which gives SAA access to Dubai as a network, combined with SAA’s network of intra-Africa and intra-regional services, is advantageous for both airlines.

Foster points out that SAA, together with its partners Airlink and SA Express, has an incredibly comprehensive network out of Johannesburg, adding that Airlink alone has about 50 access points in the sub region.

“It gives SAA the ability to pick up passengers anywhere within the sub region and on the SAA brand and take them to any destination out of Dubai.”

CEO of Tourvest Destination Management, Martin Wiest, said: “Anything that makes it easier to travel to SA is a good thing; and it opens up the markets with connectivity through the codeshare. For Emirates, it adds to their hub philosophy of Dubai, and it allows Emirates, through the codeshare agreement, to access more African destinations.”

The agreement is also expected to also enhance the airlines’ respective loyalty programmes, although it is unclear how. Voyager members are already able to earn and redeem miles on flights operated by Emirates and Skywards members earn and redeem miles on SAA-operated flights.

Loyalty teams are discussing other enhancements, says Tlali.

Tlali also told Tourism Update that no international SAA route cuts were planned, adding that the airline’s route network was evolving to adjust to market opportunities and highlighting the recent increase in flights from Washington DC to Accra as an example.

An Emirates spokesperson told Tourism Update that South Africa continued to be a priority market for the carrier, which currently operates eight daily flights to South Africa, two of which use A380s, to Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.

In another recent development, in December Public Enterprises Minister, Pravin Gordhan, publicly pledged support to SAA CEO, Vuyani Jarana, after the latter’s near-resignation.

After a meeting with Vuyani, the Minister announced that the CEO had agreed to withdraw a letter to the board, in which he said he intended to resign unless he could be assured of the board’s full backing.

“When SAA is asking for assistance to keep it afloat, we need maximum confidence in the organisation,” he said. “The matter has now been resolved and there is no conflict.”