A Uganda Airlines aircraft. COURTESY PHOTO

Uganda Airlines yesterday Monday, May 31, 2021, commenced daily direct flights from Entebbe to Johannesburg to the joy of several Ugandans who live and work in Southern Africa.

The airline will operate four flights a week, with a return air ticket costing $341 (about Shs1.2 million).

Uganda Airlines should now have an edge over Ethiopian, Kenya Airways and Rwandair that fly the Entebbe-Johannesburg route. Although the average price for a return air ticket for the first week of June is lower at $270, they are not a direct flight like Uganda Airlines is.

Monica Rubombora, the Resident Representative – Uganda Airlines, South Africa, said her team is working tirelessly to ensure each flight is fully booked.

She said bookings so far indicate that several people in South Africa want to travel, regardless of restrictions put in place to combat the spread of COVID-19.

She also said apart from South Africans, some of the foreign nationals from the East African region, including Ugandans are potential clients for the direct flights.

The maiden flight is slated for 7:40pm while that from Johannesburg is slated for 1am. Trips are expected to last at most 4 hours.

Ugandans in Southern Africa, who have been using Ethiopian Airlines and Kenya Airways (KQ) to travel to and from Uganda, have welcomed the news.

A Zambian businessman also says that though the cheapest EBB-JNB return air ticket currently is between USD 268 and USD 280 by Ethiopian Airlines beginning tomorrow, passengers destined for Johannesburg have to wait at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a connecting flight.

“The waiting hours at Addis Ababa can take between 4 hours to even half a day,” he says. “So by the time you reach your destination, you will be extremely exhausted. So the ET ticket may be the cheapest on the market but it is expensive because of the stop-over.”

Eng. Mohamed Kaggwa Maseko, a Ugandan who is a permanent resident in South Africa agrees. He says that “It’s been a hustle having to stop over in Nairobi or Addis Ababa for long hours. And the influx of procedures at every airport in transit was hectic.  So Uganda Airlines will save us from all that and probably overtake these regional carriers.”

He explains further: “It will be a great privilege to finally get a direct flight back home. We have been hustling with these non-direct flights ever since South African Airways -SAA suspended direct flights from Entebbe.”

Maseko says that though South African Airways air tickets were slightly more expensive than those for KQ and Ethiopian Airlines (ET), a passenger would be sure of stopping only at their final destination.

SAA halted direct flights to Entebbe in February 2020 due to financial constraints. At the time. Maseko says the air tickets for SAA were USD550 (about UgShs2.5 million), while KQ was charging USD 400, (about UgShs2 million).

“When you use KQ, it is a must that you will pass via Nairobi and the stop over lasts between 4 to 18 hours, and the waiting hours have become longer probably due to Covid-19 protocols,” Maseko says.

On top of the long waiting hours during connection flights, Maseko says there is also the risk of luggage being bungled up in exchange.

“So, direct flights are indeed a privilege and I am also happy that the Uganda Airlines air ticket price for this route are low,” Maseko says.

Another regular traveler, Lilian, is excited that she will be able to travel from Cape Town  to Johannesburg and thereafter board a direct flight to  Entebbe whenever she wants to visit her family.

She says she has been using Rwandair because Kigali is less than hour from Entebbe and she has not had any major issues regarding her baggage.

“I don’t have any complaints about Rwandair, it is just that the stop-over in Kigali which sometimes means that you will have to wait longer for a connection.”

However, Eng. Maseko says he last used Rwandair in 2019.  “The air ticket price was the lowest at the time at US$380 and I stopped using the airline after we had to stop over in Kigali at weird hours and then made an unscheduled stop over in Lusaka.”

Maseko says the stopover in Lusaka affected his travel plan because “the airline service was reasonable until they delayed and eventually returned me back to Entebbe for a ‘stupid’ reason that my permit was only weeks to expire yet I have permanent residence in South Africa.”

Meanwhile, Roger Wamara, the Commercial Director, Uganda Airlines says Johannesburg is important for the national carrier because it hosts a large number of Ugandans and also a number of South African companies operate in Uganda. These companies include Shoprite, Game Stores, MTN and Standard Bank among others.

He says the Entebbe-Johannesburg route is therefore vital for leisure and business for visitors to both Uganda and South Africa.

Wamara adds that the Johannesburg route is an entry point for the airline’s international flights because it will be the airline’s first destination outside the East African region.

The airline currently flies to 9 destinations in 6 countries. These are Nairobi, Mombasa, Bujumbura, Zanzibar, Dar-es-salaam, Kilimanjaro, Kinshasa, Juba and Mogadishu.

Wamara says the long haul destinations are in the works, with flights to Dubai expected to commence end of June, then London in July. Guangzhou and Mumbai flights are slated for later this year.