British Airways, Virgin Atlantic now charging half of KQ fares By PAUL REDFERN THE EAST AFRICA Posted Saturday, January 3 2009 at 09:54 Both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have slashed their fares between London and Nairobi and both are now often half the price of equivalent Kenya Airways tickets. Economy tickets between the two capitals can now be bought for as little as $318 each way, with even Premium economy fares on Virgin Atlantic going for around $1,163 return. These prices are at levels not seen for a decade and are a response to plunging demand for air travel worldwide. Flights to Dar es Salaam are also available with British Airways for as little as $372 each way, while flights to Addis Ababa are available for around $527 each way. Both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are offering the bargain fares to a number of African destinations as well as to the United States, Asia and Australia. Searching the websites of the two companies reveals the bargains that can be had. For example, a family wanting to take advantage of the half-term holidays in the UK in February could fly out to Nairobi on British Airways on Sunday, February 15 for $318 per person both ways with a return flight the following Sunday. An equivalent flight on Kenya Airways would cost nearly double $612. Virgin and BA are effectively engaged in a massive price war with other international carriers with some major airlines slashing their fares to their lowest levels since the 1980s. Leading carriers have been forced to cut prices by up to 25 per cent amid fears that the economic downturn will lead to a post-Christmas slump. British Airways announced its New Year sale with flights to more than 75 destinations coming down in price. A return flight to New York is now just $401. Virgin Atlantic hit back by undercutting BA by $1.5 on fares to destinations including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Return tickets to India have also gone down hugely following last months terror attacks in Mumbai. BA has reduced prices to Delhi by $188 to $556, Mumbai by $141 to $510 and Calcutta by $110 to $556. Big foreign carriers operating out of Britain, including Lufthansa and Emirates, are also reducing prices. Richard Tams of BA said: We know from research that customers still rate their annual holiday as extremely important even in these difficult economic times, but obviously they want to make the absolute most of their money and this is a great time for them to do just that. Airlines have been hit hard by the economic downturn. Passenger numbers have fallen dramatically, especially in business class, their main money-spinner. The Association of European Airlines reported a 9.3 per cent fall in passenger numbers in November compared with the previous year, and warned this month would be worse. British Airways profits in the first half of the year were down 92 per cent to $81 million. The company has seen business class travel down 10 per cent month on month for three months. A spokeswoman for the Association of British Travel Agents said customers should take advantage of the price war as charges will go up later in the year. She said: There are some irresistible bargains for travel in the turn of the year campaigns. We know that the prices offered over the next few weeks may not be matched later on in the year, so, if you see a good deal, snap it up. Oil prices are low now, and so could be reflected in airfares, but they are very volatile and may well go up. Meanwhile, Fly540 Kenya has announced the introduction of daily direct flights between Nairobi and Kilimanjaro from January 9, with a one-way fare of $99 plus taxes. Passengers on the route will travel in 48-seater ATR 42-320 turbo prop aircraft. The launch of the Kilimanjaro service is the latest step in the development of Fly540 as a Pan African airline. In 2008 Fly540 added Entebbe and Zanzibar to the growing list of destinations in neighbouring countries. The daily services to Kilimanjaro will depart from Unit 1 of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport at 10.15 am and will arrive at Kilimanjaro at 11.00 am. The return flight from Kilimanjaro will depart at 1.45 pm to reach Nairobi at 2.30 pm. Jackie Arkle-Okutoi, Fly540 sales and marketing manager for East Africa, said, Kilimanjaro will be our first destination in mainland Tanzania and will be followed by others during 2009. We are already setting up our own offices in Dar es Salaam and should occupy them early in the year in readiness to start our Dar es Salaam route.