Johannesburg - Airline 1time was about to be sold to British low-cost airline FastJet before it applied for liquidation, trade union Solidarity said on Monday.
"The company [FastJet Plc] pulled out of the transaction at the last minute... after which [1time] decided to apply for liquidation as a last resort," spokesperson Marius Croucamp said in a statement.
"The court application for provisional liquidation will be lodged today."
Spokesperson for 1time Refilwe Masemola declined to comment on the claim, saying "a full statement will be released tomorrow [Tuesday] with every detail of what happened".
FastJet is the holding company for African airline Fly540, which operates from Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana and Angola.
Croucamp estimated that 540 workers would be left jobless by the liquidation.
"This morning during a staff meeting, employees were asked to complete forms according to which they are preferential claimants and could be first in line to get paid should the company be liquidated," Croucamp said.
"Solidarity hopes that a lifeline can still be found for 1time during the process of liquidation."
On Friday scores of passengers were left stranded when the low-cost airline announced it had applied for liquidation and stopped all operations. It had about R320m in short-term debt and had been in negotiations with creditors since March.
Earlier, 1time said consumers who paid cash for their air tickets may have to wait a little longer for a refund, and may find it hard to get their money back.
"We are in a liquidation process, it may take a longer time for the liquidators to complete their work," Masemola said.
"With most liquidations, most creditors get a portion of the rand back from the company."
Tickets purchased with credit cards could be recovered through banks.
Absa, Nedbank, First National Bank and Standard Bank said they would reimburse passengers who paid with their cards.
The SA Broadcasting Corporation reported that the National Consumer Commission was considering probing if 1time sold tickets just hours before it applied for liquidation.