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Domestic airfares halve as carriers halt operations

Jambojet flight
Passengers disembark from Jambojet flight at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Airfares on domestic routes have hit rock bottom in the wake of reduced travel following the coronavirus outbreak that has seen some local carriers like Safarilink and AirKenya stop operations.

One-way fares to Kisumu and Mombasa from Nairobi have more than halved to a low of Sh3,540 on peak days — the lowest ticket prices have sunk.

Carriers such as Kenya Airways #ticker:KQ and its budget subsidiary, Jambojet, have grounded planes and cut frequencies to save costs amid reduced passenger numbers because of travel restrictions imposed by the government Jambojet charged Sh3,800 to Kisumu from Nairobi on the peak day of Friday while Fly 540 was charging Sh3,540 including on the Mombasa route.

Fares on the routes rarely fall below Sh7,500 on peak days. The recent declines have seen Safarilink and AirKenya suspend operations until June 1.

“We have cancelled most of the flights mainly because most lodges and parks which form part of our key destinations in the country have also closed down,” Alex Avedi, CEO of Safarilink told the Business Daily in an interview.

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“If we see demand, we will resume operations because we have the pilots and aircraft”.

Kenya has so far confirmed 142 cases of Covid-19 disease and its crucial tourism and farm export businesses have already been hit by the impact of the outbreak.

Social distancing, night curfew and restriction of businesses like schools, bars and restaurants as well as mass gathering have been impacting on consumer spending and travel.

This has derailed Jambojet’s plan to more than double its annual passengers to 1.5 million in the next three years by opening new routes in East Africa and flying planes more often.

The no-frills carrier, founded by Kenya Airways six years ago, is cutting back amid the slump on travel.

“Following a decline in passenger numbers due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Jambojet wishes to inform its customers and the general public that we have reduced our flight frequencies to all local destinations,” said the airline.

Like budget carriers in Europe and South Africa, Jambojet passengers only pay for seats.

The airline charges extra for services such as baggage and meals, allowing ticket prices to compete with buses and trains. Its premium parent company, Kenya Airways, is also suffering from the drop in domestic travel and has cut prices.

Kenya Airways, whose charges on Mombasa and Kisumu routes rises to Sh12,000 on Fridays and weekends, has cut fares to a low of Sh6,140 on the two routes from Nairobi.

The peak Easter season that starts this week is not offering a letup to the carriers, suggesting many travellers have postponed travel plans following the coronavirus outbreak.

Jambojet fares to Kisumu, Mombasa and Malindi on Good Friday will rise to Sh4,300 for those who booked on Sunday.

This is less than half the Sh12,500 that passengers paid on the routes during the Easter holiday last year amid full bookings.

The high demand for passengers seeking to travel for Easter holidays last year saw Kenya Airways deploy the premium high capacity Dreamliner plane on the Mombasa route and additional flights to Kisumu from Nairobi to match the demand.

Mr Avedi noted that following the outbreak of Covid-19, cancellation of flights especially by foreign tourists who use the airlines to connect to destinations such as Maasai Mara has been on the rise.

The domestic carriers lobby has urged the government to offer immediate financial support to the carriers to avoid collapse.


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