booster: Air Seychelles is expanding its reach with the help of Etihad.

Cape Town - The plan for turning around SAA and making it profitable, prepared by a team headed by Nico Bezuidenhout, the acting chief executive of the airline (new CEO is now Monwabisi Kalawe), has been given to the cabinet to consider.

Until the cabinet has approved the final version, it is still under wraps. Mayihlome Tshwete, spokesman for the Department of Public Enterprises, told me some of the decisions would be unpopular but they would be in the best interests of the country and of the industry.

He did not say who they would be unpopular with – whether the public, other airlines, the staff, or all three. Hopefully, they will please the public at least, bearing in mind that we still have a choice about who to fly with and also bearing in mind that, despite its troubles, SAA is operationally a good airline.

There is speculation that the plan may include a suggestion put forward when Siza Mzimela was chief executive, that SAA should develop a hub airport in another part of Africa nearer its main source markets.

This, presumably, would either have to be in a country with no international airline of its own, to which an SAA hub would be a tremendous asset, or SAA would have to take a stake in the national airline and incorporate it in its own international route network rather than compete with it.

This is a strategy that Middle Eastern airline Etihad, based in Abu Dhabi, is successfully following. It has taken a 40 percent stake in Air Seychelles, the formerly loss-making island airline.

Air Seychelles has, as a result, made its first profit – of $1 million (R9.14 million) – this year and has expanded its network to include Etihad’s home airport of Abu Dhabi as well as Hong Kong.

It has also negotiated new codeshare arrangements with other airlines. These have effectively enabled Air Seychelles to use OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg as a hub from which it offers connections to other parts of Africa without flying there itself.

Meanwhile, SAA has announced a new partnership with Legacy, under which Voyager points can be exchanged for Legacy points on a one-for-one basis.

This will enable SAA passengers to stay at Legacy hotels and buy a range of luxury goods from other Legacy partners at reduced prices, while holders of Legacy points can fly with SAA at reduced fares. Let’s hope it will work in the airline’s favour.

Loyalty programmes were introduced by airlines in the days when there were far fewer people travelling frequently on business than there are today. Nowadays, some frequent flyers build up an enormous number of points entitling them and their families to free or cheap flights. - Weekend Argus