Flying Low-Cost in South Africa

Trying to escape the Cape Town winter which often consists of rain, my girlfriend and I decided it was time for an adventure to see the South African bush and jump the border to Botswana. South Africa boasts two main low-cost airlines Mango and Kulula Airlines. Mango is owned 100% by South African Airways, which in turn is owned by the South African government. Kulula is a subsidiary of British Airways. We decided to fly to Lanseria Airport, which is a private airport located between Johannesburg and Pretoria. This airport is tiny and not close to the center of either city, but is usually cheaper to fly in and out of than O.R. Tambo International in Joburg. For our return trip we would fly out of O.R. Tambo. I will review both of these airports next week and hopefully we will soon cover them in the tripchi airport app.

Mango 737-800 Livery

Mango 737-800 Livery

Ticket Purchase

Both Kulula and Mango function much like US low-cost carriers Spirit and Allegiant who we compared in our New Fleet VS Old Fleet blog. The pricing is a la carte and you will pay extra to purchase a seat, for food/drinks on board and WiFi. Amazingly both Kulula and Mango offer one free checked bag per person and no carry on fee. As a passenger this is great but from a business prospective they are leaving money on the table. They could reap a backlash from public if they instituted a checked bag fee but I imagine they work it into the price. Much like other low-cost airlines they use a variable pricing system in which you will find much lower prices early in the morning and towards the end of the day.

South African Low Cost Rivals

South African Low Cost Rivals

We chose to go with Mango to Lanseria and back from O.R. Tambo based on price and timing. We had heard that Kulula was fun to fly on and little more comfortable, but their prices were substantially higher. We wanted to get up to Lanseria before noon to rent a car and luckily we found flight for $82 USD p/p. We purchased seats 5E and 5F for an additional $3.25, which was more than reasonable. If available you can choose the exit row or first row for no additional fee. You have to be careful at checkout because they add automatic flight insurance unless you deselect it. Also you need to be sure of your purchase, once you click submit there are no refunds and the change fees can get pricey.

Mango Flight 702 CPT-HLA

Carrier: Mango Airlines (JE)
Flight – 702
Gate – A8
Departure – 9:35 (CAT)
Arrival – 11:45 (CAT)
Aircraft: 737-800
Capacity: ~90%
Seats: 5E and 5F
 
Mango Lanseria 737
 

Boarding was the usual 30 minutes before takeoff and was fairly hectic. Our gate changed ten minutes before boarding and I went to confirm this with the staff at the new gate. They replied that they had no knowledge of the change and to return to the original gate, which we did. Turns out the board was right and we walked back to the new gate, a waste of ten minutes wandering back and forth. There is no boarding procedure with Mango, once the gate is opened everyone lines up. You board via air stairs which worked out well because it separated the passengers who were sitting towards the back which allowed boarding to flow smoothly. Strangely I saw many people sit in the wrong seat and have to get up and move. Not sure if it was their first time flying but I seemed to happen more than usual on this flight.

Tight but Comfortable Seat

Tight but Comfortable Seat

The Mango 737-800 carries 186 passengers and they pack them in tight. The seats themselves were pleasantly comfortable and reclined a decent amount. I wouldn’t want to sit in them for a transatlantic flight but for an hour and forty-five minute hop they were just fine. The seat back pocket was above the tray table and hard plastic. It could only house the in flight magazine, emergency procedures and puke bag. I was a little put off by this, as I had nowhere to stash my book. We took off to the North West over the Durbanville Hills Wine lands and then headed North East for the remainder of the journey over the South African bush. Service started once we hit 10k feet and it was very efficient. The crew members are very polite and ask if you want to purchase anything from the trolley. They have the usual sodas, coffee, tea, snacks and pre-made sandwiches for $4 (R50). You can ask for a glass of water for free. Unlike Ryanair or Spirit the crew members don’t push the on-board products hard. The remainder of the flight was uneventful and our on time arrival was punctuated by one of the smoothest landings I have ever experienced.

Mango Flight 123 JNB-CPT

Carrier- Mango Airlines (JE)
Flight – 702
Gate – C10
Departure – 6:30 (CAT)
Arrival – 8:30 (CAT)
Aircraft: 737-800
Capacity: 100% 
Seats: 5A and 5B
Over The SA Bush

Leaving Cape Town

We booked the flight the day before the scheduled departure and got very lucky to get such a cheap price at $79 p/p, the only downside was the flight left at 6:30 which meant we had to stay near O.R. Tambo and get a shuttle to the airport at 5:00am. When we purchased the tickets online, no option was given to purchase seats. Turns out you can choose your seat at the time of check in for no cost. As long as you check in early enough, you can get a decent seat. Wish we knew that the first time around.

For an early morning flight on a Sunday, I was surprised to see it sold out. The domestic departures terminal is slightly less glamorous than the international side and our gate had very limited seating available. Boarding again was the “just line up” policy but this time around it there was only one door open. This caused a bottle neck at the entrance to the aircraft and took 10 minutes from the time my ticket was scanned until I was in my seat. Being that the flight was sold out, it felt very cramped this time around and our takeoff roll felt unnaturally long before we got airborne.

Diving Through Clouds Towards Cape Town

Diving Through Clouds Towards Cape Town

The same style of pleasant and efficient service commenced. I did not partake in any offering but did enjoy some free tap water. Without any announcements small tv’s folded down from the ceilings. They started to play South African promotional videos and adverts for Mango and other products. I figured this could waste a few minutes and looked around for the audio port to plug-in. Turns our there was none and you weren’t able to hear the sound. Didn’t make sense but I have experienced much stranger things than that while in Africa. It was an overcast and rainy day in Cape Town and on approach to Runway 01 at CPT we spent about 10 minutes in the clouds. Around 500 feet from the ground we burst through the clouds and touched down hard and fast forcing the pilot to apply a heavy dosage of brakes and reverse thrust. We taxied to the gate and thus completed our first round-trip low-cost South African airline experience.

Overall I enjoyed Mango and found it much better than flying Allegiant or Spirit. Booking online was easy and check in was a breeze. The crews were pleasant, the seats were comfortable and the prices were low enough to make the downsides (crowded plane and poor boarding procedures) tolerable. I would recommend flying into Lanseria over O.R. Tambo if you can, ticket prices are lower and the airport experience is more enjoyable, but we will get into that next week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Chandra is passionate about travel and technology....

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