In an impressive feat, LIFT, South Africa's most flexible airline, managed to launch from concept to its first flight in just 90 days. This ambitious endeavour was driven by a vision to revolutionise the domestic aviation industry and provide customers with a modern, customer-centric travel experience. Celebrating their third anniversary, Theuns Dreyer, Head of Airports and Ground Operations Compliance, and Charlene Meltz, Head of Marketing at LIFT, shared memories of the challenges they faced, what led to their success, and the intriguing story behind LIFT’s brand name.
Closing the gap in the market
We launched during COVID-19 to fill a gap in the market. With local carriers facing financial difficulties, we saw an opportunity to provide a flexible and customer-focused alternative in South Africa. The inflexibility of the domestic market, exacerbated by the pandemic, made changing tickets a cumbersome process with the added frustration of having to pay penalty fees for travellers. Our vision was to empower customers to make changes to their tickets up until 24 hours before a flight without incurring any additional fees.
We're not here to replace low-cost airlines. We're a premium, full-service airline. When you fly with LIFT, you get drinks and snacks included in your fare. This includes great coffee from Vida e caffè, one of the top coffee brands in South Africa. We also have a drinks trolley so you can enjoy a whiskey, GnT or a glass of wine. LIFT is dog-friendly so that people can travel with their small dog in the cabin. We make sure that whatever we do is best-in-breed.
Partners, not service providers
Strategic partnerships played a significant role in our launch. In industries like ours, you can't survive without strategic partners. We carefully selected industry experts in each space, including technology, services, and onboard partners. Their expertise, knowledge sharing, and matching energy are crucial. For example, with Ink, we explained our vision, they listened, and they literally managed to get us online within a month.
Ink's technology, including their DCS desktop and mobile, Ink Web Check-In, and Ink Turn, has made a significant difference in streamlining our passenger handling operations. The Ink team's response time and the system are amazing. It's also probably the fastest check-in system that's been operating in South Africa. We can literally clear any queue within two to three minutes. We couldn't have done this, let's say, five years ago, not in the three-month timeframe.
The power of people and talent
We may be a young airline, but we are far from inexperienced. With the combined experience of our founder, Gidon Novick, and CEO, Jon Ayache, along with our leadership team, ground crew, cabin crew, Commercial Team, Support Team and airport managers, we possess the knowledge and expertise of a mature airline that has been around for years. However, what sets us apart is our passion and energy as a startup, driving us to innovate and approach things differently. This unique combination of experience and enthusiasm contributes to our success.
During our recruitment process, we received an overwhelming response of thousands of CVs. From this pool of talent, we handpicked the best individuals in the aviation industry who aligned with our brand and shared our focus on delivering exceptional customer experiences.
The story behind the brand
The name "LIFT" emerged through a unique process. Two months prior to our launch, we decided to let the public decide our name. We launched a competition and received an astounding 20,000 entries. "LIFT" was among the top six names proposed, perfectly capturing our vision of providing a lift from point A to B and uplifting spirits during challenging times. It was a perfect fit for our brand.
Reliving the 'WOW' moment
Just one month before our launch, at 8 pm on November 10th, we pressed the button to open sales, with the first flight scheduled for December 10th, 2020. It was a point of no return. The excitement was palpable when the first booking came through. It was a monumental, crazy, and amazing moment. We had achieved something that no one else in the world had ever done: We launched an airline in 90 days.
The night before the launch, our staff worked tirelessly. Janet Richards, co-owner of Ink, personally conducted an online training session for check-in, ensuring that everyone felt supported. The next morning, we arrived at work, and the system worked seamlessly. Having Ink as a trusted partner throughout the process was crucial to our success.
Future plans and growth: #upLIFT
As LIFT reflects on the past three years, our focus remains on growth and delivering exceptional service to customers. Our immediate focus is to increase our footprint in South Africa, particularly in the Golden Triangle region encompassing Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban. Our aim is to offer an elevated flying experience to all South African travellers flying domestically. We aim to continue delivering exceptional service to our customers. As we grow, we remain committed to strategic partnerships. From the tech to the coffee, we make sure we have the best brands that we're partnering with. In tech, that's Ink.
The story of LIFT is a testament to determination, innovation, and the power of strategic partnerships. Launching an entire airline in just 90 days is a remarkable achievement that showcases their vision, the exceptional talent attracted, and the unwavering support they received from partners. By prioritising flexibility, customer experience, and digital solutions, LIFT has disrupted South African aviation, setting new standards for the industry.
At Ink, we're excited to see LIFT's next steps and support their growth. We value and support their commitment to #upLIFT the customer experience.