Travelling across Africa’s huge distances can be expensive, and until recently, domestic travels meant making a detour connecting flight through Europe.
That’s finally changing, thanks to the low-cost airlines taking off across the region, serving routes that cater to the continent’s growing middle class. This project has not always been this easy to kick-start. Seemingly a logical solution today, back then it was difficult to get support from governments and other foreign countries.
African nations signed an “open skies” agreement in 1988, similar to the one in Europe that cleared the way for successes like easyJet. Most countries have yet to actually implement the agreement. But as the number of potential travellers grows, the new low-cost airlines are slowly convincing governments about the benefits of increased air travel.
“There are more than one billion people on the African continent, which is home to just 3% of the world’s aviation business,” says Ed Winter, CEO of Tanzania-based fastjet. “It is clear that the continent remains in desperate need of improved and affordable aviation connectivity.”
Here are 10 airlines already pushing Africa’s travel revolution:
Kulula.com took off in 2001 as Africa’s first low-cost flight. It is still one of the most successful, and the funniest. On its trademark green planes, flight attendants make witty jokes out of the safety announcements, and they’ve been known to quiz passengers who don’t pay attention.
However they can be serious business too when needed; it’s operated by South Africa’s Comair, the local partner of British Airways, and has forged deals with Air France and Kenya Airways.
Cities served: Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein, East London, Windhoek, Harare, Mauritius, Victoria Falls, Livingstone, Nairobi
Ambitious and quickly growing airline fastjet took off in 2011 running domestic routes in Tanzania. Over the last two years it’s expanded to four other countries. The airline has big experience and big backing. Its boss Ed Winter is a former executive at easyJet, which has a stake in the African venture.
Cities served: Dar es Salaam, Johannesburg, Entebbe, Harare, Kilimanjaro, Lusaka, Mbeya, Mwanza
More than any other airline, flyafrica.com has stepped into the void left by the downsized Air Zimbabwe. With Johannesburg as its hub, flights started last year with jaw-dropping specials like 99-rand ($9) trips to Victoria Falls. Their cheap flights do not include any checked bags, of course. In addition to that popular run, it also flies the normally pricey route to Harare — to the relief of the hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans living in South Africa.
Cities served: Johannesburg, Harare, Victoria Falls and Windhoek
Mostly within South Africa, their distinctively orange planes also fly to Zanzibar. Mango is known for flash sales, with big rebates for fliers who join its mailing list and are willing to book instantly.
Cities served: Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein, George, Zanzibar
One of the newest competitors within South Africa, FlySafair took off in October and has been trying to build a customer base over established rivals Kulula and Mango. It significantly lowered its ticket prices this year to reflect cheaper fuel costs. The tickets are already stripped down — they also do not include checked bags.
Cities served: Johannesburg, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, George
Fly540 has enjoyed success in Kenya, where its flights connect even the desert outpost of Lodwar to the rest of the country. But it had to scrap operations in Ghana and Angola in 2014. Now it focuses on Kenya and neighboring countries.
Cities served: Nairobi, Eldoret, Mombasa, Kisumu, Lamu, Lodwar, Malindi, Juba, Zanzibar
This budget airline was launched in 2014 by Kenya Airways and only serves four cities, but aviation authorities have cleared the way for JamboJet to operate flights across Africa from Nairobi and Mombasa.
Cities served: Nairobi, Eldoret, Mombasa, Kisumu
8. Dana Air
Once a troubled name in African aviation because of the crash that killed 153 people in Lagos, this carrier was shut down in 2012. Dana Air resumed flying a year ago and says all safety concerns have been addressed. It’s still working on getting certified by the international aviation authority IATA, but has resumed domestic routes.
Cities served: Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Uyo
Obviously not based in Africa, the airline still connects 12 cities on the continent, if passengers don’t mind a layover in Dubai. flydubai.com added six cities in 2014, and this year was inaugurating a new flight to Hargeisa in Somaliland.
Cities served: Addis Ababa, Alexandria, Bujumbura, Dar es Salaam, Djibouti, Entebbe, Juba, Khartoum, Kigali, Kilimanjaro, Port Sudan, Zanzibar
This new carrier has just started selling tickets for its flight between Johannesburg and Cape Town. The airline is a reboot for the shuttered 1time, whose top executives are behind the new venture. Among their bragging rights: no charges for checked luggage. Yay!
Cities served: Johannesburg, Cape Town.
Photo credit Griffin Shea, for CNN.