SAA's reputation on a slippery slope

2013-07-11 20:52

Despite being the recipient of a diverse range of airline awards, it seems like South African Airways (SAA) constantly finds itself its customers' bad books.

News24 reader, HBekker, recently penned an article on MyNews24's blogging platform about a bad experience where their luggage, which contained important medicine for epilepsy, went missing on an SAA flight from Vancouver to Johannesburg. According to Bekker's account the airline barely paid any attention to their plight and once the luggage arrived also didn't make an effort to return it to them or apologise. 

Bekker writes:

"I have been a so-called "Gold card" SAA client for several years running, probably at least 10 years. My daughter and I arrived in Johannesburg on SA235 from Vancouver via London on Saturday, 6 July 2013 at around 7:40am. Our luggage did not arrive. I went to report it and obtained a reference. I also made sure when filing the report to state clearly that my daughter has epilepsy and that her medicine (a liquid) was in the luggage. The medicine is not available in South Africa....

I called the call centre number (+27 11 9783733) regularly over 48 hours and the calls were only answered twice, the rest of the time the telephone just rang or went to an engaged tone after a while... 

My last call was on Monday, 8 July 2013 at around 7am. I held for approximately 30 minutes before it was answered and was then told that the luggage is in Cape Town, but that they were very busy and that I should rather go and pick it up.

At no stage did any representative of SAA care the least, express any sympathy or understanding or try to help, despite the medical crisis we were facing. I experienced complete and utter disregard. My problem was totally irrelevant to SAA.

This level of (no) service and on top of it theft is completely unacceptable. I have always been a loyal SAA client and Voyager Gold card member, but this is the last straw. I will do my absolute best to fly SAA only when there is no other option from now on. "

This inspired a flurry of responses from fellow readers, many agreeing with the conclusion of avoiding SAA, but surprisingly also a few coming up for the national carrier. 

Derek Penny - I stopped flying with SAA 19 years ago when the service started slipping.

Kevin Owen - I once flew to China on business with a changeover of flights in Singapore. Flew Singapore airlines. When I arrived in Beijing two Singapore Airlines staff were waiting for me and most apologetically told me that my suitcase had been delayed. They gave me a gift pack which included toiletries, a towel and bath robe and US $400 cash with which to buy clothes. My suitcase was delivered to my hotel the next day. And no, it had not been tampered with.

Now THAT is good service. Cannot ever imagine SAA ever even coming close to that.

Darryl Maze - Dont even bother with SAA ever again. It just shows they do not care about their passengers. All that the staff care about at SAA is their pay checks at the end of the day. Their services are a disgrace. I for one will never fly this airline. Just look at all the problems with SAA and all the corruption. SAA is going the same way as the ANC, down down down.

Paul De Villiers - Ahh please get over yourself and your racist attitude, I've travelled on many airlines and guess what SAA is not the only Airline where luggage that gets lost or arrives a day or two later.

As for your ANC jibe, in my opinion the ANC have not done a bad job, sure they are not perfect, but hey please give me an example of a country without corruption. I live in SA and if I look around me not much has changed in our lives scince the ANC came into power.

Pngwenya - Darryl, the baggage handling or custoremer service at SAA has nothing to do with corruption. Of course if you have not worked for the airline it would be difficult to understand what happens the minute you check your bag in. As a customer relations professional, yes the airline should keep constant contact with the customer, whether they have news or not. This makes the customer a bit more comfortable knowing that the airline is with him/her during this unfortunate incident.

Secondly, the baggage issue is a worldwide phenomenon, hence all these conventions and IATA.  The baggage problem has been and will always be there. 

Andre Bosch - @Paul. Yes you are 100% correct. I fly Emirates and my luggage has also been late a few times. BUT it has NEVER been broken into. It is strange how when the airline hears you are flying to RSA they offer to clingwrap your luggage for you...

And @Pngwenya. Yes you are also correct the old government was also corrupt, but during their reign my friends' luggage was not ransacked at the RSA airports.

Ronald - No wonder that SAA constantly operates at a loss. They shift the blame onto the baggage handling companies, perhaps rightfully so, but the face that we deal with at the counter, airport and airplane is from SAA.

I pay the airline company for transporting me and my baggage from one place to another, not their agents that handle my bags. As such they should deal with the problem their thieving and irresponsible agents cause. Part of the problem lies with the union culture that also prevents the "privacy" of their members being invaded by CCTV cameras while stealing or damaging my property, and then protecting such members by threatening strikes when these thieves are caught. I have flown everything BUT SAA the past eight years with one incident where I was compensated more than adequately, whereas SAA would just pull up their collective shoulders instead of their standards.

Coenraad Van Der Westhuizen - It is utterly unacceptable. But then again, what would you expect from an airline that gets bailed out with the already burdened taxpayers' hard-earned cash on a regular basis, and is stuck in the rut of complete complacency (and contempt for ) and with no incentive to be rise above its own level of mediocrity.

Zohan Steppingstone - Losing one's luggage is indeed a major disruption and I'm sorry it happened to you and your daughter. I am a frequent flyer and fortunately it's only ever happened to me once in twenty years of flying all over the globe. In SAA's defence however; lost luggage at the destination is almost always caused at the outbound airport. Chances are excellent that it was incorrectly tagged, directed or loaded by the handling company in Vancouver. The days of airlines handling luggage are long gone; nowadays it is done by so called "baggage handlers" like Swissport or ACSA. I agree that SAA could have been more forthcoming in your case, but the whole thing is dealt with by ACSA, SAA is only the carrier. Yes, the face at the counter wears an SAA uniform, but everything else is done by ACSA, your wrath should be directed at them.

Ronald Langeveld - So the lesson is, Don't Fly SAA!

Responding to an enquiry about the incident from News24 Travel Dileseng Koetle, SAA's Head of Communication, apologised to customers who were inconvenienced due to delayed baggage arrival on 6 July 2013.

"This operational glitch was caused by the breakdown of the baggage conveyer belt. SAA engaged with its service provider to ensure that the issue was rectified with urgency as to avoid inconveniencing our customers," she said, adding that their call centre experienced high call volumes during this period.

According to Koetle a number of customers are still awaiting their baggage, but that the airline expects finally deliveries to be completed by Tuesday. "SAA has worked tirelessly to ensure that customers inconvenienced by this incident are reunited with their bags," she said. 

Has your luggage ever gone missing? This is the correct claims process to follow:

Mishandled Baggage Claim Process

- Customer opens a missing baggage report at South African Airways Lost Property Desk on arrival.
- A file reference is allocated to customers, this reference is use on World Tracer for tracing the missing bag.
- The bag will be traced for 7 days and failure to locate it, the customer is advised to file a claim while tracing continues.
- We have 21 working days to continue with tracing, this allows both processes to run parallel.
- Secondary Tracing
- Claim Process
- If the bag is located, it will be delivered to customer.
- The claim process is stopped and the file closed.

Contact details:
- Call Centre number to call (+27) 011 978 3373
- Email address -

What is your take on SAA's service? Have you ever had a bad experience or do you think they're doing a good job? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section below or send us your thoughts to

Read more on:    saa  |  travel south africa  |  flights

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