Flights grounded ‘to save lives'

2007-12-01 00:00

Airline rivals raced to put on extra flights yesterday to accommodate Nationwide passengers left stranded after the SA Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) grounded the airline over maintenance concerns from midnight on Thursday.

“We cannot afford to be reckless on this because we are dealing with human lives,” said CAA executive legal manager Ntheri Magoai.

Nationwide said 6 000 passengers were affected yesterday alone. It had to cancel 60 flights, including one to London last night and two to Livingstone in Zambia, said the airline’s sales and marketing manager Charmaine Thome.

Also cancelled were the airline’s domestic flights to and from Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, George, Mpumalanga and Johannesburg, she said.

Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) spokesman Solomon Makgale said that long queues of Nationwide passengers were “clearing up”.

He said Acsa had staff on the floor at O.R. Tambo International Airport, in Johannesburg, explaining what had happened to Nationwide passengers as they arrived for their flights.

They were being directed to the Nationwide reservations desk where Nationwide staff were informing them of their options.

This was not having any effect on the passengers of other airlines, said Makgale.

At Durban International, Acsa spokesman Colin Naidoo said minor delays and disgruntled passengers are expected this weekend.

Both Nationwide and travel agencies were trying to make arrangements for passengers and all airlines have promised to do all they can to help.

This is despite the fact that schools broke up yesterday and the holiday season, with its extremely high traffic volumes, is under way.

According to Thome, Nationwide was offering refunds to passengers unable to get alternative transport. It was also offering to change their tickets for flights on later dates.

However, from midnight yesterday, Nationwide passengers who had been left stranded were no longer being assisted by rival airline Comair, which earlier came to passengers’ assistance by accepting endorsed tickets.

Airline spokeswoman Glenda Zvenyika said the decision came after Nationwide’s tickets were declared void by the International Air Transport Association and the airline suspended as a participating carrier in the Bank Settlement Plan (BSP).

The BSP distributes funds to travel agents for bookings made with airlines.

The airline said it added two additional flights to Cape Town last night and is investigating the possibility of assisting stranded customers by adding more flights to the weekend.

“With the advent of school holidays and the festive season, our flights are already operating at high-load factors, but we will try and assist these displaced customers wherever possible,” said Comair spokesman Stuart Cochrane.

“We are in the process of assessing the operational logistics of scheduling additional flights later this afternoon [Friday] and into the weekend,” he said.

He advised people to book flights through Comair’s call centre, rather than to simply arrive at the airport.

The British Airways call centre is on 0860 I FLY BA (435922), and may be found on 0861 KULULA (58582).

Bookings can be made on, or via a travel agent.

South African Airways (SAA) said that while it is putting on extra flights, stranded passengers will have to pay for seats on these planes.

Details of the additional SAA flights were not immediately available.

The CAA grounded Nationwide from midnight on Thursday over concerns about the maintenance of the 16 aircraft in its fleet — 12 Boeing 737-200s, three Boeing 727s and one Boeing 767.

Nationwide has indicated that it intends appealing the decision.

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