Travel bans
(Constantine Johnny, Getty)
  • Airlines were forced to suddenly adjust their flight schedules on Tuesday morning, to cope with an extended curfew across South Africa.
  • Passengers unable to legally get to airports on time for morning flights found call centres overwhelmed as they tried to figure out what was going on.
  • Airlines advise watching their schedules closely, with the possibility of cancellations looming.
  • You should have about an hour to get from your home to an airport to catch the first flight every day. If you can't, you'll have to join a cell centre queue.
  • For the last flight out, you'll have an hour to get home, though there's some leeway if you run into trouble.
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There was chaos and many, many angry passengers on Tuesday morning as airlines scrambled to deal with the implications of an extended curfew across South Africa, at what amounted to no notice.

Airlines bumped morning flights to later times across the board, as the injunction on South Africans to not leave their homes before 06:00 – announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa only on Monday night – kicked in.

But by mid morning it was still not entirely clear which flights would depart when, and customers were complaining of overwhelmed call centres and a lack of communication on their specific situations.

At airports too there was confusion, despite the already limited schedules of flights due to depart.

Only a handful of flights were cancelled, as operators consolidated flights, but industry experts warned that more – and potentially sudden – cancellations could be expected for the next two weeks, under adjusted Level 3, even for mid-day flights.

Caught off guard, airlines could only advise passengers to keep an eye on their websites and social media feeds for updates.

In what is likely to be an industry-wide approach, Airlink said it would push all its flights to 08:00 or later in the morning, and ensure it had no arrivals after 20:00 every day.

At the current speed of screening and processing at airports, that allows passengers an hour of legal travel time between 06:00 and 07:00 to get to an airport, and just enough time to check in and board a flight before departure.

Likewise, landing at 20:00 offers an hour to get out of the airport and travel home before curfew kicks in at 21:00.

Where flights are delayed, or passengers run into other trouble not of their own making, law enforcement officials are supposed to consider the specific circumstances if they find someone out of home after curfew starts.

But there is no provision, in law or practice, to help those who live more than an hour away from an airport.

They will simply have to rebook their flights, via call centres where their tickets can not be adjusted online, operators said. 

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