- The stricter lockdown regulations announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday evening is also impacting air travel.
- SA's domestic airlines have been busy with passengers having to deal with impact of the new regulations.
- The new regulations prohibit leisure travel to and from Gauteng, which is currently the hotspot for coronavirus infections in the country.
Comair, which operates kulula.com as well as British Airways domestically, announced on Friday that it was temporarily suspending all scheduled flights for three weeks.
This follows President Cyril Ramaphosa's announcement of the move to an adjusted level 4 lockdown and a prohibition on all non-essential travel in and out of Gauteng.
Comair flights will be suspended from Monday 5 July and it aims to recommence services from 30 July, subject to regulations being eased and Covid-19 infection rates being contained.
Kulula.com customers who are holding a valid ticket booked for travel from 28 June to 29 July will be able utilise their ticket within 12 months from the first date of travel without any penalty. No change of booking fee or fare difference will be charged.
Comair CEO Glenn Orsmond apologised to customers affected by the suspension.
"This was a difficult decision, but we believe under the circumstances [it is] the right course of action for our loyal customers and employees," he said in a statement.
Comair is still in business rescue. Its rescue practitioner, Richard Ferguson, described the temporary suspension of flights as a "bold, brave and responsible step in light of the prohibition on leisure travel to and from Gauteng, very little business travel and no connecting traffic from international carriers".
Airlink, the South African-based domestic and regional airline, said on Friday it will continue to provide its regular scheduled service across its network of more than 35 destinations to support business, trade, tourism and keep economies functioning while South Africa is under Covid-19 Level 4 restrictions.
At the start of the week Airlink adjusted its schedule of selected Airlink flights so that its customers can comply with the revised curfew with minimal disruption to their travel plans.
"We fully support the South African Government’s effort to flatten the infection curb as the safety and well-being of our customers, crew and staff is our priority. However, together with our service providers, the airports at which Airlink operates, and our customers, we have demonstrated that by applying stringent local and internationally-recommended hygiene and biosecurity measures, that our flights are safe," Airlink managing director and chief executive Rodger Foster said in a statement.
While inter-provincial travel for leisure to and from Gauteng Province is prohibited, travel to and from Gauteng is permitted for business and essential purposes. Travellers who transit through Gauteng to a final destination outside of that province are also permitted
Travellers flying to or from the Gauteng for business or essential purposes should download and complete the relevant permits here, as they may be required to present them to law enforcement or port health officials. Airlink customers can also opt to postpone their travel and change their reservations.
Low-cost airline LIFT announced on Wednesday that it had decided to cancel all flights on its Johannesburg-Cape Town route from 5 to 31 July. The schedule is set to resume and bookings remain open from 1 August 2021.
Passengers will be able to change their bookings to a credit in their LIFT wallet for use on future flights.
"The impact of the new regulations and the third Covid-19 wave has been severe, particularly for Gauteng-bound travellers. Under the new regulations, leisure travel has been banned and the number of business trips is negligible as many people choose to work remotely," LIFT said in a statement.
"People are choosing to stay at home for now. Understandably so. Our crew are also better off staying put until this wave recedes and the vaccination rollout reaches critical mass. We're very lucky that LIFT's agile, demand-driven business model allows us to scale up and down as things change," said Jonathan Ayache, CEO of LIFT.
More than 1 000 passengers have already taken advantage of LIFT's flexibility, cancelling or changing their flights since the the announcement of the new lockdown regulations.
On Monday Fin24 reported that domestic airlines jumped into action in order to deal with President Cyril Ramaphosa's sudden announcement of stricter travel regulations on Sunday night in an attempt to curb the third wave of coronavirus infections surging through the country.
Ramaphosa has moved the country to alert level 4 lockdown until 11 July when the situation will be re-assessed. Due to the high number of Covid-19 infections in Gauteng, the new regulations prohibit travel in and out of the province for leisure purposes. People living in Gauteng will be permitted to return home if they are currently outside its borders.
Travel to and from Gauteng for business purposes and to transit through airports in the province, are still allowed. New curfew times are 21:00 to 04:00.
Kirby Gordon, the chief marketing officer at FlySafair, said on Monday afternoon that, at this stage, FlySafair is looking to possibly reduce and adjust its flight schedules.
"We expect demand is likely to drop off quite considerably, so that would require some reduction in the long run. In the short term, we obviously have to make a few changes because of changing curfew times. So, overall, these additional restrictions are not amazing for business, but we have had to weather that kind of situation before and we will continue to do so," said Gordon.
In order to accommodate its customers, FlySafair has lightened some of the terms on its tickets. It has dropped all of its penalty fees. What this means is that customers, regardless of what type of ticket they have, can do penalty-free changes on any of their flights. They will, however, still be liable for fare differences if the new flight they want is more expensive than the one they have, but they will not be charged the penalty fee for changing.
Similarly, FlySafair dropped the penalty fees on those tickets that had penalty fees for customers who want to cancel and refund their flights to their FlySafair "wallet". Both the changes or cancellations can easily be done on the airline's website.
Further, as a proactive step, FlySafair has created tools to help their customers create the permits that they ostensibly need for travel as per the Government Gazette from Sunday night.
"We are still awaiting details from the Civil Aviation Authority and the Department of Transport on exactly how the collection of these permits will be executed. Previously it had been managed by the port health authority when they were processing health screening documents," says Gordon.
"So, we understand that it would probably be a similar type of system that will be implemented, but we are still waiting for those specific details. For now we have just created templates on our website based on the templates provided in the Gazette. It is to advise our customers that they may need these permits. But we are still waiting for clarity on that."
Mango responded to say its customers must note that reasons for travel will be asked at check-in for any flights to and from Gauteng.
Business travellers need to present an official letter on company letterhead stating that the purpose of travel is business-related.
The airline advises its customers that, should they not be able to travel during the period, they need to send send voucher queries to firstname.lastname@example.org or contact its call centre on 086 100 1234. Vouchers issued will be valid for 12 months.
"Please note that all type of travel to and from other provinces is permitted. Furthermore, flights impacted by the curfew will be adjusted to lessen the impact on passengers and all affected passengers will be informed via SMS, email or call centre and accommodated accordingly," says Mango.
"Passengers leaving for or arriving at their destination during curfew hours will be required to produce valid boarding passes as proof of flight or a copy of their airline ticket."
"We have seen a big pullback in demand in the weeks running up to Sunday's announcement. We have seen very soft demand so far on Monday as well and a spike in calls from people wanting to postpone travel. We have cut some capacity and expect to cut more. I suspect we will end up with an overall reduction of about 50% capacity, perhaps even lower, said CemAir CEO Miles van der Molen.
He believes demand will improve only in early August at best.