LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - 2020/01/19: An Etihad Air
Etihad Airways. (Photo: Getty Images)
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  • Etihad Airways has decided to suspend its operations in South Africa as part of an "ongoing review of network performance".
  • The embattled Abu Dhabi-based carrier says its flights to and from South Africa will be suspended until end-March.
  • But according to one report, local employees claim their contracts have been terminated.
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Etihad Airways, which has operated flights to and from South Africa since 2005, will suspend its flights between Johannesburg and Abu Dhabi at the end of the year. 

"As part of an ongoing review of network performance, Etihad Airways has suspended its flights from Abu Dhabi to Johannesburg until 28 March 2021," the Abu Dhabi-based carrier's head of corporate communication Michael Campbell confirmed. "The decision to suspend the route is a commercial one, and a direct consequence of the impact of COVID-19 on global travel and tourism demand."

Campbell did not want to comment on a report published on Travel News that claims that the carrier has terminated its employment contracts with local staff, which suggests a more indefinite exit.

South African Airways (SAA) inked important deals with Etihad between 2013 and 2015, including a controversial codeshare agreement – which allegedly cost the national carrier R100 million – and shared routes to Abu Dhabi. SAA’s codeshare arrangement and direct flights to Abu Dhabi only lasted for a year.

And as SAA struggles with its own dire financial predicament, Etihad’s own battle to stay afloat and reliance on bailouts from Abu Dhabi’s government reached a critical point just months before the global coronavirus pandemic decimated international travel. With losses exceeding R80 billion over the last five years, Etihad has been forced to re-evaluate its global positioning.

After months of operational dormancy, Etihad took the tough decision to slash its flight paths, with South Africa first in the firing line. 

Passengers who have booked flights with Etihad have been instructed to contact the airline directly.

According to an industry-wide release concerning the closure of Etihad’s South African office, existing bookings were likely to be absorbed by Egypt Air via Cairo. This offer will not apply to groups, redemption, or Free of Charge (FOC) tickets.

According to Travel News, Etihad employees based in South Africa have complained of pay cuts which have progressed to contract terminations, raising concerns around the airline's operational capabilities in 2021.

Compiled by Luke Daniel.

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