File photo: A 1time Aircraft at OR Tambo Airport at Kempton park Gauteng. Photo: Leon Nicholas

Durban - When I heard the news last week that 1Time airlines had no more airtime, I was slightly surprised. I mean there were no obvious signs that the company was going bust, unlike Velvet Sky which died a slow and very public death.

And then of course there was Nationwide, which had its entire fleet grounded when authorities discovered that their planes were held together by sticky tape and some paper clips.

So now we have a so-called budget carrier sector that’s getting smaller and smaller as a result of soaring fuel prices and stiff competition. Somehow SAA still manages to stay afloat and we all know why. Personally, I feel in a globalised world there is no need for a national carrier and it’s grossly unfair for SAA to be shielded from the prevailing harsh economic conditions that everyone else has to contend with. I say let them fend for themselves in the interest of fair conditions. And if their miserable air hostesses end up being unemployed as a result, then so be it.

As cut-throat as airline executives say the competition is, I still don’t believe the public is benefiting as much as they should be. Flying is still beyond the means of the majority of South Africans. In fact, middle class folk can only really afford to fly when one of the so-called budget carriers is running a special. Coincidentally, someone mentioned that it was one of these specials being run by Mango that put the final nail in the coffin for 1Time.

I take exception to the use of the term “budget airline” in the South African context. Firstly, there isn’t generally a big enough price difference between the existing airlines (with exception to SAA, which is way more expensive than anyone) to differentiate between budget and non-budget. There is also no real difference in service between the carriers.

I flew SAA recently, and the price of the ticket was double that of 1Time. The only tangible difference between the two experiences was that SAA gave me a “meal”: a roll with cheese, which happened to be the Halaal meal on that particular flight. Needless to say, it was the most expensive cheese roll I had ever eaten – and I have been to Europe.

Also, for the price I paid, I expected a bit of extra leg room, but I was just as cramped as I would’ve been had I flown on any of the other airlines’ flying Putco buses.

However, with the death of 1Time, I have found my “low cost” choices quite limited.

To be honest, 1Time wasn’t cheap. They were just cheaper. And going back to my point of flying still being way too expensive, I have found that often when one of these new cheapie airlines launch, they promise the world in terms of low fares and no frills, but these promises never really materialise.

I’m still waiting for a truly no frills airline, designed for the true cheapskate South African, like me, who just wants to get from point A to B alive. I’m talking about streamlining the whole experience to bring the price of a ticket right down.

For instance, do you really need a seat? I read somewhere that an airline in the states was about to offer, or is already offering, standing room on some flights. Now that sounds like an idea to me. If I was paying 200 bucks to Joburg return, I wouldn’t mind standing – after all, its just an hour. What’s the big deal? For those who absolutely have to sit, I’d have a few rows of kombi-style seats.

I know some people would harp on about the safety issue. The bottom line is, if that plane goes down you’re f******, whether you’re in a seat or standing. It makes no difference.

Secondly, one of the biggest costs for airlines these days is staff. I say do away with air hostesses. Who needs them anyway? If airlines were to put a vending machine in the back of the planes, no one would even notice the difference. It’s just replacing one robot with another. I know these ideas might come across as a little radical, but perhaps the lesson from the death of 1Time is that it’s time for new ideas in the airline biz. - Sunday Tribune