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Passengers irate after Kulula and British Airways flights grounded

Many travellers arrived at Cape Town International Airport to find all local Kulula and British Airways flights had been cancelled on Saturday. Tracey Adams, African News Agency

Many travellers arrived at Cape Town International Airport to find all local Kulula and British Airways flights had been cancelled on Saturday. Tracey Adams, African News Agency

Published Mar 13, 2022

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Many Kulula and British Airways passengers were fuming after flights were grounded following a probe into incidents of mechanical faults.

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Yesterday, customers at Cape Town International Airport had to scramble to make alternative flight arrangements after the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) grounded all flights operated by Comair for 24 hours.

The operator now has until today to fix the issues flagged by the authority or face prolonged grounding of its fleet.

Workers at the airport told Weekend Argus they had their hands full when the cancellations were announced.

A worker who spoke on condition of anonymity described yesterdays events as chaotic.

“People didn’t know which side to go to because they were either forced to hold on to their tickets until the problem is solved or had to make other arrangements with alternative airlines.

“Friday evening I noticed that some of the flights were delayed, then (Saturday) it was cancelled,” added the worker.

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Jessica Horwitz, 39, who arrived at the airport at noon, said she was told her flight on Kulula to Johannesburg was cancelled.

“The problem is there was no prior communication. We came here and all they said was that the flights were grounded. It’s beyond frustrating because I’ve got a 2-year-old baby at home waiting for me.”

Abdul Kadre, 41, who was on a business trip in Cape Town, said he booked with British Airways ahead of the rush to travel back after the cycle tour but had to make alternative arrangements to get home to Johannesburg in time for work.

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“I need to be home because I have a job there. There wasn’t even a SMS to inform us. I would expect them to communicate better, especially with executive club members.”

Kadre said he used half of his air miles to book his ticket and was told there was no guarantee of a refund.

“I was also told that there are no flights available on Sunday and would have to wait until Monday to fly, but that is also not a definite.”

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Speaking for Comair, Stephen Forbes said they could not indicate how many people were affected by the suspension.

“We are very sorry for the inconvenience this has caused our customers and are doing our utmost to restore operations as soon as possible.

“We will keep customers informed via our website and social media channels.”

Cape Town Airport’s general manager, Mark Maclean, said: “Comair (BA) and Kulula, together with the Cape Town International Airport team facilitated stranded passengers at the airport yesterday. We experienced queues of stranded and anxious passengers at the airport, especially at the ticket sales and check-in areas. Some domestic airlines added additional flights to their schedule to provide passengers with alternative options to reach their destinations.”

The authority said Comair’s suspension came after an investigation into a recent spate of safety incidents.

On Monday, a Kulula flight from Lanseria had to divert to OR Tambo International Airport following reports of engine issues. The same problem occurred three weeks ago on the same route.

Last year, Comair went into business rescue after Covid-19 restrictions hit the airline industry hard.

The CAA confirmed in a statement on Saturday that in the past month, Comair operations experienced engine failures, engine malfunctions and landing gear malfunctions.

The SACAA visited the operator to determine if Comair complied with civil aviation regulations.

The CAA said the operator had until today to meet the requirements from the regulator. “Failing which, the approval will be suspended indefinitely, pending the satisfactory closing of the findings,” read the statement.

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