It’s sad and a lot of factors are responsible, the major one being that air connectivity in Africa is very very poor. Putting things into perspective, Congo for instance, doesn’t have a lot of airlines and Kenya Airways is probably the only airline that operates direct flights between Nairobi and Kinshasa the capital of Congo. Except you want to trek, your only option is to fly with them whatever the ticket costs. That’s monopoly!
Another problem is ‘operational problems’. Aviation fuel (JetA1) is still very expensive in Africa, and sometimes it’s not even available. Fuel is the single most expensive operational logistics for airlines, and they’ll do anything to recover money spent on fuel. Some airports may not be able to supply JetA1, so to avoid being stranded, an aircraft may have to take off with enough fuel for both outbound and inbound flights. Carrying too much fuel makes the aircraft heavier and less efficient.
Another thing is poor load factor. For instance, if an airline is flying only 50 people on a Boeing 737-800 between Point A and Point B, they’ll try as much as possible to make the fuel bill go round. Now, 50 passengers on a B737-800 is less than 30% load factor, there’s no way an airline can break even with such a load factor without charging passengers exorbitantly. The higher the load factor, the less expensive the tickets.
Another major problem is lack of co-operation and partnership among African airlines. Instead of interlining with each other on certain routes, they prefer to put a plane on those routes and end up flying empty planes around. That’s why they open a route today and suspend it tomorrow.
Multiple taxation, greed and selfishness are other problems. Airlines pay too many taxes and there are too many government agencies to settle. In many African countries, aviation policies are unfavourable, making the business environment very harsh for airlines. In fact, some African governments protect foreign carriers at the expense of the domestic ones.
African airlines want to stay in business and profitably too. One of the ways to ensure that is to squeeze out money from their passengers. Sometimes, they even have hidden charges.