FlySafair breaks Internet with R1 flights

Michelle Avenant
By Michelle Avenant, portals journalist.
Johannesburg, 26 Aug 2015
FlySafair's Web site was overloaded, to the ire of social media users, when it announced a R1 flight special on Tuesday.
FlySafair's Web site was overloaded, to the ire of social media users, when it announced a R1 flight special on Tuesday.

Budget airline FlySafair launched a social media circus yesterday when it announced a R1 flight special in celebration of its first birthday.

Its Web site was promptly overloaded and the special effectively became unavailable, provoking widespread outrage on social media.

"Your Web site has crashed so what is the point of advertising your sale when tickets can't be purchased," said @cmacnair on Twitter.

"Our site hasn't crashed. The response has been overwhelming and our servers are being kept very busy," FlySafair posted on its Facebook page at 7.34am on Tuesday, less than 10 minutes after announcing the special via social media.

The flight special, which was originally set to close at midnight on Wednesday, offered 30 000 flight tickets for R1 each, including airport tax, and was only available via FlySafair's Web site.

While the airline had doubled its Web site's usual capacity in anticipation of the special, it was unprepared for the amount of traffic the offer attracted, raking in more than 30 times the site's usual number of users, FlySafair said on Facebook at 11.30am on Tuesday.

Although a number of users excitedly posted and tweeted they had scored cheap flight tickets, hundreds continued to voice their annoyance and outrage with the airline, as the Web site remained either unavailable or unusably slow for the majority of users throughout the day.

"I have been trying since 6am and I still have not been successful; this is just not fair because so many people are unable to make the purchases while a few have," said one Facebook user.

Many Facebook users said they had managed to find and begin booking their R1 flights, and the site had crashed when they had tried to make the online payment. Others complained there was no simple mechanism for finding the R1 flights, so many users were adding unnecessary traffic to the site searching for them by checking flight prices one by one.

At 3.49pm on Tuesday, FlySafair announced via Facebook that it would extend the flight special until noon on Wednesday.

At 6.42pm, the airline said on Facebook there were 19 042 R1 tickets left. FlySafair made similar announcements throughout the evening, as the number of remaining R1 flights dwindled.

The airline had continued to add server capacity to its Web site in collaboration with its tech partner, Radix, a US company specialising in airline bookings, says Kirby Gordon, VP of sales and distribution at FlySafair. By 7pm on Tuesday, the site had five times its usual server capacity, he adds.

The R1 flights were sold out by 8.33am on Wednesday, according to a Facebook announcement from FlySafair.

The airline's intention with the sale, which comes at a financial loss to FlySafair, was to invest in attracting passengers and giving them the opportunity to try out the airline and share their experiences, rather than spending an equivalent amount on advertising, says Gordon.

The demand for the sale was "absolutely unprecedented," but "it's fair to say we have some very clear metrics going forward", he notes.