‘Uncompetitive’ British Airways muscled out of Uganda

British Airways has finally wound up its business in Uganda after nearly 24 years of service, citing economic reasons. The airline made its last flight out of Entebbe International Airport to London Heathrow on Saturday morning, (3rd October).

In an email to The London Evening Post confirming the news, Edward Frost, the South and East Africa commercial manager for the airline said: “We are suspending our London Heathrow to Entebbe route from 2nd October 2015 because they are not commercially viable anymore.” He however said that the airline will continue to serve East Africa with a daily flight to Nairobi.

British Airways has been operating at least four flights a week to Entebbe and it has apologized to its travelers who had already booked flights. Entebbe is Uganda’s busiest and only international airport and according to the travel website TripAdvisor, at least 49 domestic flights and 490 international flights depart from there every week. However, according to one of Uganda’s retired flight captain Francis Babu and former Minister for Education in the current country’s regime, BA’s rates were not as competitive as the ones offered by other airlines that make flights to London.

“British Airways doesn’t have good competitive services at all. We now have so many airlines that serve the same route with lower rates and good services such as Emirates, Fly Dubai, KLM, Turkish Airlines, Egypt Air, Ethiopian Airlines and many others,” Mr Babu said.

He explained that although BA offers the luxury of direct flights from Uganda to the UK, most Ugandan travellers prefer to use airlines going via the Middle East, despite the longer time journey.

“Getting a direct or transit visa to London is a hassle,” he said. “You cannot step into a London airport even if you’re in transit without paying for a visa,”

“Personally, I would rather take a longer route with a good service than a shorter one with poor services like that of BA,” he added, before complaining of what he termed as ‘bad food’, some staff on BA flights ‘having an attitude’ while noting that their customer service care leaves a customer wanting, especially in Business Class. He said that although Uganda would lose in terms of revenue, its flight fares range between $800 to $1700, just like other airlines.

On the issue of redundancies, Mr Frost said that all employees will leave with a package; “We are in discussions with British Airways staff in Entebbe and Kampala who will be affected by this decision. They will be provided with a severance package.”

British Airways has operated in Uganda for 24 years after re-launching its flights to Uganda in 1991. It was the only airline operating direct flights from London Heathrow to Entebbe. “British Airways has been serving Entebbe in different forms for a number of years and we are continually reviewing and evaluating our flights. Sometimes the outcome of these reviews leaves us with decisions, like this one, that are extremely hard to make,” reads the mail.

This is the second airline company in less than two years to suspend operations at Entebbe International Airport. Air Uganda suspended all operations in June 2014 after the Civil Aviation Authority withdrew its license. However, there have been airline entries especially from Middle East carriers. Two new players, Etihad Airways and Fly Dubai, made their entry into Uganda in the last one year alone.

This article was first appeared on The London Evening Post website.

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