Travel agency leaves customers fearing they've been defrauded after bizarre email prank

By Hilda Van Dyk
06 April 2017

“I wish I could undo this,” the company's founder said after the shocking email caused havoc.

A trip to Rome -- what a treat, right?

Well, not when you've supposedly booked and paid for a trip you have no memory of arranging.

Some South Africans were left bewildered when they received an email from Travelstart, reminded them of their imminent trip to Italy for six weeks.

The email was sent to anyone who had previously made a booking through the online travel agency and stipulated the travellers report to OR Tambo airport on 14 April.

The flight, from Iberia Airlines, would supposedly leave OR Tambo airport on 14 April and touch down in Rome the next day.

It was all part of an April Fool's joke. But since the e-mail went out on a Saturday, many customers didn't see the email until Monday morning -- and started panicking. Stephan Ekbergh, founder of Travelstart, apologised on Twitter almost immediately after the email was sent.

When questioned on the matter, Stephan told YOU he was inundated with emails and phone calls after the fake email was sent. Many people feared their information had been leaked.

“To my surprise, a lot of people thought it was hilarious. I do not agree with that,” says Stephan.

Cape Town's Rene and George Williams* didn't find it funny at all. Upon receiving the email, panicked George contacted his credit card company, because they’d been victims of fraud twice before.

The previous cases involved fraudsters purchasing flight tickets with their credit card.


“It wasn’t funny for us. There’s currently so much corruption going on. One shouldn’t joke about such things,” says Rene.

Stephan says he agrees with Rene.

“I remember I was drinking a cup of tea when I received the same email. I thought something completely bonkers had happened to our database. It was then that I contacted the office,” says Stephan. “All I can say is that I’m sincerely sorry. It was never funny.”

South African studying in Poland Christiaan Boonzaaier (31) got the email too. Initially, he was confused since he had booked a flight from Berlin to Brussel at the end of last month. The travel plan on the email looked like the real deal, even though there wasn’t a booking number.

“Even though it hadn’t been booked through Travelstart and although the ‘plane ticket’ in the email was from Johannesburg to Rome, my first thought was that I must’ve somehow messed up big time with my booking,” says Christiaan.

When he saw the date, he immediately knew it was a joke.

“I laughed and I wasn’t upset, but I did realise there’ll be people who are legitimately going to believe it’s a plane ticket.”

Stephan says he hopes no one shows up at the OR Tambo airport in the hopes of getting a flight to Rome.

“I will personally give them an R1 000 gift voucher, a box of chocolates and an invitation to my office to tell them how sorry I am,” says Stephan.

“I wish I could undo this.”

Stephan says anyone angered about their information being leaked, or has anything they’re worried about, can contact him personally at

*Some names have been changed.

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