Mbalula, ACSA CEO share their views on FlySafair’s R750 seat blocking policy
* This story has been updated to reflect that the minister does not support the policy as initially reported.
Johannesburg - Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula says he does not support private airliner FlySafair's R750 seat blocking policy as it was not government policy nor was it contained in the regulations.
There was an uproar on social media on Tuesday when it was announced that the private airline would allow passengers to block a seat by paying an additional R750.
This would allow a passenger on a window or aisle seat to have the middle seat vacant.
Airlines will be allowed to operate at 100% capacity during level 3 lockdown, with authorities expressing satisfaction at the measures that have been put in place to curtail the virus spreading on flights.
These measures include screening at various checkpoints at the airport, compulsory bag wrapping, strict social distancing measures and a no touch policy which would ensure airport staff would not come into contact with passengers.
Mbalula said he had noted the outrage directed at FlySafair on Twitter and said of the intiative.
“It's a marketing strategy for those who don't trust the HEPA (high efficiency particulate air filter), ‘so you don't trust HEPA, pay more’,” he said.
“Airlines work towards your pocket... I can simply book 5 seats or 10 seats. It's according to your pocket,” he said.
Mbalula assured South Africans that the R750 seat blocking measure was not a pre-requisite to fly and said it was for those who had heightened Covid-19 anxieties and who could afford to.
“I'm not a spokesperson for FlySafair, they can speak for themselves, (but to me) it is a marketing tool. They don't need our permission for that,” he said.
After this story story was published on Wednesday afternoon, Mbalula's spokesperson Ayanda-Allie Paine issued a statement to IOL clarifying the minister's comments, saying the minister was infact opposed to the policy by virtue of it not being government policy, nor was it in the regulations.
"Minister Mbalula was not in support of the R750 promotion that ensures a vacant seat on an aircraft.
"The minister stated that it is a marketing ploy by an airline, that it was common practice even before Covid-19 and that it is the passenger’s prerogative to book an empty seat should they wish to do so. However, it is not government regulation and therefore, he cannot support it," Paine said.
Meanwhile, Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) chief executive Mpumi Mpofu said the organisation had no reservations over the seat blocking policy ahead of domestic flights resuming in June.
Mpofu said they had put in stringent measures in place to ensure travellers on flights were healthy to travel and free of Covid-19.
She said a “sick bay” at the back of the aircraft would be utilised for travellers who developed symptoms while on-board, and passengers who displayed symptoms or had a high temperature would be sent home if they were detected at the various checkpoints at the airport.
On the seat blocking matter, Mpofu said: “We believe it is important to support all measures available in aircraft that will show a sensitivity.
“The FlySafair model is to give you maximum options. We are not opposed to it. Some individuals may not want to sit next to anyone, so we have no objections to that,” she said.IOL
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** If you think you have been exposed to the Covid-19 virus, please call the 24-hour hotline on 0800 029 999 or visit sacoronavirus.co.za