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Get me to the Gautrain on time

So I need to travel to Cape Town. Just for a day, to give a talk to a school on social media. I might squeeze in a couple of other meetings to make the most of the fact that I’m there. At most, booking a flight should take me five minutes, right?

As it turns out, no. This is because, before booking, there are a number of factors to take into consideration. For instance:

1. I’m an insomniac. This means early flights are a no-no. Getting up at 4am to catch a flight at 6am leaves me a hollow-eyed wreck barely able to function. I refuse to fly before 7am if I can help it.
2. Getting back in time to catch the Gautrain. (Why oh why does the last Gautrain leave so early?) The last one leaves at 8.30pm so I can’t risk landing after 8pm. This means I can’t leave Cape Town after 6pm, which means I can’t arrive at the airport much later than 5pm, which means battling rush hour traffic. I could of course just drive myself to the airport, but driving back from the airport at night is one of my least favourite things. (Alternatively, I could of course leave from Lanseria.)
3. Allowing enough time to get from the airport to my meetings and back.
4. Price. The client is paying, but I’d still like to keep it reasonable.
5. Reliability. I’ve been seeing a lot of tweets about delayed Kulula flights, and this worries me. If my flight is delayed on the other end, I’ll miss the Gautrain. Nobody wants to miss the Gautrain.
6. Aircraft. I’m not keen on traveling on ageing aircraft and the fact that 1Time uses the MD82/83/87, all of which were discontinued in the 1990s, is a negative factor for me. Probably irrational, but that’s perception for you. (Curious fact: the plane that crashed in Pakistan on Friday used to fly around South Africa in BA livery before it was retired and sold.)
7. Brand. This would be a consideration if Velvet Sky were still around – I wouldn’t have touched them with a bargepole – but all the others are much of a muchness. Kulula, Mango and 1Time have all been around for long enough for me to be confident that they’ll still be flying in two weeks’ time. I love Kulula’s advertising (I once worked on the account, years ago), but I won’t choose them because of it.

It’s a lot to think about. Lanseria, it quickly turns out, isn’t an option. The first SAA flight leaves just before 6am, the second at 11.40am. Kulula flies at 6am and 8am, and the return leg costs a jaw-dropping R2999; at R2939 for the same leg, Mango is hardly cheaper. 1Time is the cheapest by some way, but again, flies either too early or too late. So, no.

SAA and BA out of OR Tambo were much of a muchness, offering similar times and similar prices. When two brands are neck and neck, that’s when brand does play a role: when I fly locally, I associate BA with good service, while I have my doubts about SAA (overseas, it’s the reverse; I’ve heard too many bad stories about BA).

In the end, I went with BA out of OR Tambo. 7am flight out, 5pm flight back and it comes to a total of just R2568, more than half of which is taxes and surcharges. The entire process ended up taking over over an hour but at least it’s done. Just as long as I don’t miss the Gautrain – that’s the most important thing.


  • Sarah Britten

    During the day Sarah Britten is a communication strategist; by night she writes books and blog entries. And sometimes paints. With lipstick. It helps to have insomnia.