Reliability, the most important attribute in choosing flights in SA – MUT study found

Press release statement   

Submitted by: The Department of Marketing & Communications

Via email:

31 March 2022


Reliability, the most important attribute in choosing flights in SA – MUT study found

Issued on behalf of Ms Mbali Mkhize, Senior Director: Marketing & Communications


A study by academics in the Faculty of Management Sciences at Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) found airline reliability to be the most important attribute that influences customer preference and choice of airline in South Africa, ahead of ticket prices and airline safety.

The study, titled, Airline preference and choice factors in the South African domestic passenger market: An exploratory study was conducted by Dr Nkululeko Fuyane, and Mnelisi Xaba, both of the Department of Marketing, and Dr Mpuzu Sikwela of the Department of Public Administration and Economics.

Published in the International Journal of Business and Management Studies, the study comes at a time when the global aviation industry is slowly finding its wings after months of being grounded due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Participants in the study ranked airline reliability as the most important attribute in a list of 10 attributes.

“Airline reliability is more about averting customer inconvenience by performing as per promises made to customers,” the study explains.

The other attributes that followed by order of importance in determining airline choice and preference were booking and check-in; staff competence, courtesy and responsiveness; luggage handling; cabin features and experiences; safety; ticket savings; loyalty programmes and ancillary pricing; on-board services; and airline reputation.

The study comes at an important time when petrol prices continue to rise to all-time highs in South Africa, prompting aviation experts to comment that the rising petrol price will lead to increases in ticketing prices.

Though not conducted on a national scale, this study demonstrates that the decision on which airline to use is a product of a complex process, which is affected by many other variables beyond the price of a ticket.

The fact that the three most important attributes after reliability – booking and check-in; staff competence and courtesy and responsiveness; and luggage handling – are processes where airline staff play a significant role, are some of the study’s major findings with important implications for commercial aviation.

This finding could mean a significant investment in staff training for airline staff who are involved in physical check-in of travellers, and those who encounter travellers, whether inside the flight or before they get into the flight. However, booking and check-in is also about having a system that is not only user-friendly, but also accommodating.

“It (booking and check-in) consists of items such as easiness and efficiency of booking, user-friendly online booking and check-in services, mobile booking and check-in, secure online payment processes, reservation flexibility, self-service kiosks and facilities for people living with disabilities,” explained the study.

Luggage handling, on the hand, has been a subject of frequent inquiries in the commercial aviation sector.

“The fact that luggage handling is among the top five most important airline service attributes in this study is not surprising, following many reports on luggage loss or damage. The three researchers observed variables that significantly describe luggage-handling construct loaded significantly; luggage security loaded highly, followed by luggage tracking and notification technology, and free luggage allowance. “This explains why airlines have adopted luggage tracking and theft prevention technologies,” the study explained.

In terms of the preferred airline for travel within South Africa, the study participants picked the South African Airways (SAA) as their preferred airline.

“The results show that the negative publicity around South African Airways and its subsidiaries (before it was placed on judicial management) did not deter people from preferring it when flying within South Africa,” explained the study. “About half the respondents indicate that they prefer SAA and its subsidiaries (SA Express Airways) at 32.2% and 18.1%, respectively and 13.4% preferred Mango Airlines, a low-cost carrier wholly owned by SAA.”

British Airways and Kulula placed three and four respectively with 14.1% and 12.4% percent, while Safair (6.4%) and Cemair (0.3%) ranked seven and eight, respectively.