COVID Forces South African Startup Lift To Cancel 190 Flights

South African startup Lift has had to cancel all flights on its Johannesburg-Cape Town route from July 5-31. The airline adds that its full operations are set to resume in a month, on August 1st. Of course, this resumption is subject to the health situation improving in the country.

South African new airline LIFT Sneak Preview
Lift has been operating somewhat steadily with its small fleet of Airbus A320s since launching in December. Photo: Getty Images

190 flights canceled

On June 28th, South Africa moved to Alert Level 4 due to a significant third wave. Reacting to the new strict measures brought in with this level, Lift stated the following on its website:

“As a result‚ we have decided to cancel all flights on our Johannesburg – Cape Town route from 5-31 July. The schedule is set to resume and bookings remain open for flights departing from 1 August 2021.”

As the airline’s only route thus far, data from Cirium shows that this has resulted in the cancelation of 190 flights, although numbers are being confirmed with the airline.

The CEO of the relatively new carrier tells local media that at least 1,000 passengers have already changed or canceled flights since the late June announcement. He continues by saying,

“People are choosing to stay at home for now. Understandably so. Our crew are also better off staying put until this wave recedes and the vaccination rollout reaches critical mass. We’re very lucky that LIFT’s agile, demand-driven business model allows us to scale up and down as things change. And change, they certainly do,” -Jonathan Ayache, CEO, Lift via IOL

Lift airline
The average age of the Lift’s fleet of jets is 32 years old. Photo: Lift

Leisure travel is currently banned

Adjusted Lockdown Level 4 requirements now mean that interprovincial travel for leisure to and from Gauteng province is prohibited. Accounting for more than a quarter of the nation’s population, Gauteng is home to the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria.

While leisure travel is banned, many exceptions apply. Thus, travel to and from Gauteng is permitted for the following purposes:

Business Travel

Persons transiting through Gauteng

Transportation of Human Remains

Attendance of a funeral in or out of Gauteng

Students commuting to and from school daily

Moving to a new place of residence

Caring for an immediate family member

Oversight responsibilities by members of Parliament

Obtaining medical treatment

Returning to place of residence

Lift airline
Lift uses aircraft from its partner Global Aviation. Photo: Lift

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Lift adjusts policies for travelers

With South Africa’s new regulations and the banning of leisure travel to and from Gauteng, the airline notes that has been the majority of its revenue, noting that the “number of business trips is negligible as many people choose to work remotely.”

For passengers and customers of the airline, the following actions are being taken by Lift:

  • Temporarily waiving penalty fees that normally apply within 24 hours to departure for cancelations and flight changes.
  • Processing full refunds to the ‘LIFT Wallet’ for cancelations.

The airline notes that a fare difference may apply for flight changes, which is fairly normal in the industry.

The airline also tells IOL that all affected travelers have been contacted by email and SMS of changes and will be provided with an alternative flight.

The risks of pandemic operations

We’ve written extensively on the ‘bravery’ required to launch airlines during the global health crisis. While Lift has done quite well in its first two fiscal quarters of operations, this latest round of restrictions is a blow to its progress.

“In our first 7 months of operation, we operated over 1150 flights and transported more than 150 000 passengers with a 97% on-time performance rate and fantastic feedback on our service and the overall experience. It’s a frustrating time for South Africans.” -Jonathan Ayache, CEO, Lift via IOL

Lift airline
Lift’s business model is centered around flight booking flexibility. Photo: Lift

Of course, this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Despite significant progress being made around the world, there are still many opportunities for an uptick in cases with the subsequent risk of lockdowns.

Hopefully, Lift will manage to ride out this round of restrictions to resume growing as one of the country’s newest carriers.

Have you flown on Lift yet? Are you affected by the recent travel restrictions? Let us know in the comments.

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