Of Airplanes and Things

I recently had the opportunity to fly with Kulula.com airline for the first time, and I can tell you right up front: What an experience!

“Whoa there, Aki,” I hear you all saying, “Aren’t you the guy who is so passionate about service and personal attention and pampering and smiles? Isn’t it all about the quality of the food, the smart uniforms, the private lounges, and elegant décor?”

Well, yes and no. When I can afford to, I love being spoilt. I love it when airlines remember me, and respond to all my pathetic little quirks. (Virgin Atlantic and Singapore Airlines come to mind.) I love it when they treat me with respect and dignity and friendliness. I love an environment that is steeped in luxury, and where the snob in me gets a chance to show off. And it’s nice that I get some miles or a reward or appreciation at the end. But I am also, as my wife likes to say, “a tight bastard,” so there is nothing I like more than a good deal.

Thus, with some feelings of trepidation and unease, and because all other airline’s flights were fully booked, I got onto the internet and booked with Kulula.com.

The first surprise was to discover how easy it was to use the website, and the use of “real” language, (e.g. “Vasbyt,” a South African word meaning “hand in there,”) hinted at a sense of humour and the fun still to come. The check-in process was definitely not the same as that of our national airline, (South African Airways,) – it was better, with certainly more responsive and friendly behaviour from the staff, rather than the apathy or grumpiness I usually experience.

When I made my way onto the plane, I looked around and must admit I was a bit taken aback. A younger person will probably say that the design is “funky” rather than tacky. (Where in heaven’s name did Kulula find that bright green faux leather? And the bright green fur that we used to put on our dashboards in the sixties?) The staff wore jeans, (I liked that,) and I sat behind a person who insisted on playing music through proper speakers – quite loudly. (I didn’t like that, but they responded quickly and stopped him within about three minutes.) Yes, I had to buy my food and drinks, but at around R35, this was a great deal.

The safety announcements were my favourite. Amongst other things, they respected the fact that I have travelled on airplanes at least one thousand times, and instead of assuming, like SAA arrogantly does, that I’m a moron that still doesn’t know how to click-in a seat belt, the young lady said, “For those of you who are first time flyers…,” and proceeded to explain.

Sense of humour? You bet! When she showed how to use the life vest, she said, “If we fly over Hartebeespoort Dam, then you’ll need to know how this works.” The instructions about cell phones went something like this: “Cellular telephones and other battery-operated vibrating instruments interfere with the aircrafts’ systems, so please switch them off.” But my favourite was when she told us about the smoke detectors in the toilets. “If you are caught,” she said, “you will need to pay a fine of R3000. Even worse, you will have to fly back to Johannesburg on SAA.” Exactly!

Let’s compare what you get for your money when you fly Kulula.com versus SAA to Durban: On both airlines you get a return seat on a ‘plane which will take you and your baggage, in reasonable discomfort, to Durban in less than an hour. On SAA, with 27 different possible price structures on one flight, you will pay about R2 750. On Kulula.com, I paid R858. (Oh, and I forgot to mention that our taxes sponsored SAA’s incompetence to the tune of R24billion in the last 8 years.)

On SAA, you pay about R1000 extra for the use of the lounge, (if you qualify,) for counters further away from the security check-in, (you’ve probably already have, and will walk about 3 km. at both airports to get to and from car parks and airplanes anyway,) for a “free” meal that gives you heartburn, and for a selection of more flights and airplanes. Oh, and, of course, 500 wonderful Voyager Miles to add to your collection.

On Kulula.com, I get the same flight, same counters, and same walk. I pay R75 to use the Premier Lounge, (if I want to,) and about R35 to buy a meal and drink, (again, only if I want to.) I get as many flight choices as I need, and am penalised a bit if I want to make changes. (Not a big issue: most of my life is planned anyway.)

I get no “free” miles, but, let’s just briefly look at what that means. To get one “free” flight to Durban, on SAA, I need to give up 30 000 Voyager Miles. That means I need to fly to Durban and back 30 times, at an approximate cost of R41 250, to get my one free flight. I can buy approximately 48 return Kulula.com tickets for that same money. It’s the ultimate fraud!

Known for my reluctance to spend money, I really love a good deal when I can find it, especially when I’m paying! This flight was certainly fantastic value. To Marie. Laetitia, Smiley and the rest of the crew, I say “Well Done,” and you’ll certainly be seeing a lot more of me. May Kulula.com get stronger and stronger, so that you too can buy more planes, offer me more choices, and wipe the competitor’s arrogant smile off their contemptuous and sneering faces.

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