The ground and air staff of Air France-KLM Group helped make the repatriation process a smooth one. Video: Supplied

Air France-KLM help stranded nationals in SA get back home

By Debashine Thangevelo Time of article published Apr 20, 2020

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Over the past two weeks, the Air France-KLM Group had four repatriation flights take off from both Johannesburg and Cape Town in order to return Dutch, French and other European nationals home to Amsterdam.

The group has been working closely with the both the Dutch and French Ministry Foreign Affairs to repatriate their Dutch, French citizens and European nationals.

KLM operated consecutive flights from Amsterdam to South Africa (two flights to Cape Town and two flights to Johannesburg) with a technical stop in  La Reunion (France).

These flights were reserved to non South African residents stranded in South Africa, who made themselves known by their Embassy in South Africa.

Wouter Vermeulen, General Manager Air France KLM Southern Africa, revealed: "1079 people along with six infants were safely repatriated. These flights were implemented in coordination with the local Dutch and French embassies. Then we also needed to coordinate with our network and repatriation teams in Amsterdam. If you consider the start of the lockdown on 27 March, and first flight on the 8 April, it took 10 days from A to Z."

On the safety measures that were in place for the staff, he shared: "There were masks for all passengers provided by embassies, on board we were relying on personal health and hygiene measures. 

"Whenever possible, we also follow the general guidelines about social distancing, which means that we create as much space as possible around you by keeping seats empty. On repatriation flights to Amsterdam, however, this is not always possible since bringing as many people home as we can is our highest priority."

The ground and air staff of Air France-KLM Group helped make the repatriation process a smooth one. Video: Supplied

There were 14 cabin crew members per flight. With more than 50 people involved in the flights preparation.

He added: “As South African regulations during lock-down doesn't allow our crew to disembark, we looked at all options to find a way to repatriate Dutch, French and other EU residents. We ended up with a route via La Reunion to change our crew, enabling us to reach South Africa. For the first time in our 100 year history, KLM flew to La Reunion. I can’t express how impressed and proud I am how everyone involved, our teams, the embassies, our suppliers and South African authorities, worked tirelessly and under very challenging circumstances to make this happen. We are all extremely proud could bring 1079 passengers home, just before Easter.” 

On whether they have more such repatriation efforts planned, Vermeulen stated: "We are communicating/working with the Dutch and French embassies on a daily basis and we are definitely working on more flights to bring home as much people as we can - if there is a need, of course."

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