Why Does Emirates Have So Many Partnerships In South Africa?

Emirates has signed two new agreements with South African carriers in the last week alone. This means the Dubai-based giant now has agreements with four major airlines in the country, giving it a massive reach. But why does Emirates have so many partners in South Africa? And why have so many come about in the last year?

Emirates Boeing 777-31H(ER) A6-EQE
Emirates is ramping up flights to South Africa as travel restrictions on the country are finally eased. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Long time

South Africa has been a key market for Emirates since its early days. To maximize passenger traffic, the carrier signed a codeshare agreement with South African Airways (SAA) in 1997. The SAA codeshare was Emirates’ first-ever and laid the foundation for a 23-year successful run to date.

In 2017-18, the Emirates-SAA codeshare helped nearly 90,000 passengers take connecting flights around the world from domestic South African destinations. This also allowed the Dubai-based airline to ramp up its schedule to the country, with a massive eight daily flights (four from Johannesburg, three from Cape Town, and one from Durban). Passengers on both airlines had a host of privileges, including earning and using miles on each other’s flights.

South African Airways A330
The pandemic has hit South African aviation hard, with SAA being the first to fall. Photo: Emirates

However, the pandemic has brought a pause to this 23-year-long relationship between the two airlines. After SAA went into administration in April 2020, Emirates suddenly had no other partners in the country, hurting a potential recovery in the future. However, the airline moved quickly to make up for lost ground and has been on a deal-making spree recently.

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New ones

Emirates’ first new codeshare last year came with Airlink, the former regional franchisee of SAA. With a new livery and rebranding, Airlink has quickly become a major player in Africa and is now the second-largest carrier on the continent. Emirates first signed an interline agreement with Airlink in October 2020 before expanding this to a full codeshare earlier this month.

Airlink once again gave Emirates access to domestic destinations and opened up the larger Southern Africa for connecting traffic. As Airlink flourishes despite the challenges, the Dubai-based airline will continue to reap the benefits.

Airlink E190
Airlink has ensured that Emirates can continue having access to dozens of domestic and regional cities. Photo: Emirates

However, replacing a decades-long partnership with SAA isn’t easy. So Emirates has been pushing on with new partners. In November 2020, the carrier signed an interline deal with FlySafair, a low-cost carrier. This agreement allowed Emirates to up its domestic connection options for passengers and become more competitive among foreign carriers.

Considering these deals do not cost the airlines much and help fill up planes, Emirates has only been too happy to ink them in recent months. And it doesn’t matter how specialized an airline is, if there are passengers to be found, Emirates will be there.


On Monday, Emirates announced its fourth partnership with Cemair, a regional South African carrier. In addition to having access to domestic flights, Cemair’s network includes some unique destinations that its other partners don’t offer. The deal underscores Emirates’ need to fill up its daily services from major cities in the country, boosting the aviation recovery in the region.

Considering competitors like British Airways have deep integration with subsidiaries like Comair, Emirates is making sure that SAA’s absence doesn’t leave it behind. However, when (or if) SAA comes back to life, it will be interesting to see how excited SAA will be about jumping back into the relationship.

What do you think about Emirates’ South African partnerships? Let us know in the comments!