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Lockdown air travel, here's how it works

Published Jun 2, 2020


DURBAN - Since the travel ban and national lockdown in South Africa have been in effect, leisure and business travel have been brought to a halt; with the tourism industry being hit the hardest.

According to Travelstart, both travel agencies and airlines are inundated with queries and are trying their best to navigate this unchartered territory. We unpack how this has impacted the airlines and what effect this has on anyone wishing to get a refund or rebooked on to another flight.

When will air travel be fully operational in South Africa?

Domestic air travel in South Africa reopened on Monday, 1 June, in terms of

transport regulations published on Saturday morning

– but in a strictly limited fashion.

Limited domestic flights are allowed for business purposes, and passengers must ask for authorization based on their reason for travel, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said in a televised briefing on Saturday. Flights will begin operating from OR Tambo International and Lanseria airports in Johannesburg, and from Cape Town and Durban in phase one of the plan.

While the new flying rules do not specify who may fly, they are specific about the reasons for flying that are not permitted: "recreational, leisure or tourism purposes."

Although you might be itching to rebook your flight and jump onto a plane, keep in mind that search availability on global booking systems only covers up to 330 days in advance, for most airlines. Also, In some cases, airline inventory is not yet updated, resulting in no available flight information.

How is air travel affected?

While the national lockdown and air travel is not fully operational, don’t be alarmed to see the odd plane whizzing across the sky. That’s not for tourists. There are a few reasons you’re occasionally still seeing a plane.

Cargo flights are still operating since they are an essential service.

Many South Africans are still stranded abroad and the Government has allowed for them to be brought back home (repatriated). Similarly, many foreigners that are still stuck in South Africa are being allowed to return to their home countries.

What are airlines offering?

While everyone is feeling the financial strain right now, so are the airlines. Airlines across the world have been hit very hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) states that African airlines alone stand to lose more than R74 billion in 2020. Many are on the brink of liquidation, while others are struggling to keep afloat with minimal task teams and resources.

In essence, airlines can no longer afford to give cash refunds. Some are kindly offering vouchers to customers with an existing booking. While this may not be a viable option for every customer, at least you have a trip to look forward to when you’re able to fly again. If lockdown in South Africa has taught us anything, it’s our appreciation for travel and open spaces.

Get updated information on each airline’s policy.

What is a “free date change”?

Changing your date consists of three charges:

The airline’s date change penalty fee (most airlines are waiving this charge)

The difference in fare, which is based on fare class, availability and seasonality

Change in airport taxes, subject to fluctuating exchange rates

It is important to understand that when airlines offer a “free date change” the change is not entirely free. They might waive their admin fee, but the fare class and taxes may still affect your new ticket price.

Some airlines are currently offering one free date change on your ticket. We suggest waiting to select your new travel date until we know when airlines will be operating out of South Africa.

What does a ticket suspension mean?

Not all airlines provide this option, but for those that do, this is good news for you.

Suspending your ticket means that you can put your flight on hold to travel at a later date. Most airlines give you between 12 and 24 months (from date of issue or original travel date) in which to use your rebooked ticket. This is entirely airline dependent; some may have a shorter validity period so be sure to check the airline’s terms and conditions.

Ticket suspensions are subject to the same two charges as outlined in date changes – fare classes and airport taxes. For example, when you rebook your new dates, your original booking class may not be available. This means that you will have to pay the difference in fare as well as the difference in taxes.

What is your best option?

While most airlines are offering free date changes, it is recommended that you do not take this option as it is unknown yet when air travel will be fully operational. At this point in time, using up your one free date change would be a waste, should this continue for a longer period of time (after which you may be liable to pay for your second date change).

If you’re able to and your airline provides this option, rather suspend your booking.

What does the future of air travel look like?

Experts in the airline industry predict that domestic travel will lead the way. While ticket prices are expected to drop significantly, especially for domestic flights, there is no guarantee of this. International travel will have a slow uptake as consumer confidence grows and countries open up their borders. Experts expect to see the rise of the more conscious traveller once this is all over. People have become more aware of their own footprint and what effects the likes of overtourism have on local communities.

In light of this current circumstances, it is not advised that you rebook any flights until the air travel is fully operational.

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