Public outrage at cancelled flights

2012-02-24 00:00

PASSENGERS booked on Velvet Sky airline yesterday waited for hours at airports across the country to have their flights announced — only to hear all flights were cancelled.

Some passengers waited for six hours at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, just to learn by SMS that their flights were delayed and then cancelled.

In Durban, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth passengers also waited in vain for flights to depart.

The passengers included a granddaughter of former president Nelson Mandela, a national netball player, and a well known music group.

Head of operations at Velvet Sky, Gary Webb, told sister paper Beeld that the delays stemmed from a contractual dispute that led to the airline deciding to change its service provider.

Webb did not want to say who this service provider was, but he said it was a supplier who would not be able to survive without Velvet Sky.

He could not be reached for more comment despite several attempts.

Beeld and The Witness reported yesterday that Velvet Sky had problems with South African Airways Technical (SAAT), which had refused to do any further maintenance work on the airline’s planes because Velvet Sky allegedly had not been paying SAAT’s bills.

A call to Velvet Sky’s call centre yesterday got the assurance that all flights would resume today.

On Wednesday, the airline had assured passengers that yesterday’s flights would take off on time.

Dorothy Adjoa Amauh, Mandela’s granddaughter, who had to fly to Cape Town, was one of those who learned her flight had been cancelled. She queued with other furious passengers to claim her money back. A ticket seller said passengers would be refunded within seven days.

By the time that Velvet Sky sent a text message at 12.20 pm to alert passengers that all the airlines flights had been cancelled for the day, many had already bought new tickets on other airlines. The available seats were soon sold out.

Du Toit (22), a netball player in the national team, boarded a bus to Cape Town to attend a wedding, as she could not afford the R2 700 that British Airways charged for a one-way ticket.

Ina Greyling, who was to fly with her husband Koen and their nine-month old grandchild, Donovan Chapman, to Cape Town, showed Beeld the SMS she received at 12.05 am yesterday to inform her that their flight would be delayed by three hours.

“We are not flying with this Cape Velvet … Velvet whatever airline ever again,” she spluttered.

The cancellations caused music group Tidal Waves to withdraw from a concert in Wellington at the last minute. They said the fiasco lost them R10 000. “Velvet Sky must refund us this fee and the R6 000 we spent on tickets,” said member Jakes Wulana.

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