FlySafair mask
(Getty Images)
  • Low-cost carrier, FlySafair, confirms that passengers who refuse to comply with mandatory face mask laws are discretely handed a warning card.
  • This card details the consequences for continuous refusal, which includes arrest and being added to the “no-fly” list.
  • It also states that the plane’s captain may decide to divert the flight and, if that happens, the offending passenger will be slapped with a R100,000 bill to cover the cost of wasted fuel and admin.
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South Africa’s popular low-cost airline, FlySafair, has reiterated its strict stance on the mandatory wearing of face masks while flying. Passengers who refuse to wear a mask may be arrested upon arrival, added to the airline’s “no-fly” list and, in extreme cases where a flight is diverted as a result of non-compliance, billed approximately R100,000 for the inconvenience.

Civil Aviation Authorities in South Africa and abroad require all passengers to wear face masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19. These regulations are further reinforced by the country’s laws, which, in South Africa’s case, criminalises the refusal to wear a face mask while in public.

The responsibility to ensure compliance with the law rests with business owners and staff, who have an obligation to deny access to any customers who refuse to wear a face mask. Businesses which fail to ensure that all health and safety protocols are followed risk hefty fines and sanctions.

Airlines that do not enforce the mandatory face mask law risk losing their operating licences.

It’s against this backdrop that FlySafair’s clear warning to passengers has re-entered the spotlight. The airline, which services seven major airports in South Africa and is renowned for its low fares, has explained its use of an information card. The card is handed to passengers who initially refuse to wear a face mask after being requested to do so by the flight’s cabin crew.

“We politely ask the customer to wear the mask… often people let them drop seemingly without realising,” explains FlySafair’s Chief Marketing Officer, Kirby Gordon, in detailing the cabin crew’s first response to a passenger who is found to be in contravention of the law.

“If a customer refuses, we hand them the card. It’s a gesture that we do to prevent any embarrassment to the person in question but also to succinctly outline the consequences.”

The card referenced by Kirby explains that South African law dictates the wearing of masks while in public – including while aboard the flight – and requests that the passenger wear a face mask for their “own protection, as well as those around you”. The card goes on to list the consequences for continued refusal as follows:

  • FlySafair will inform the authorities and the passenger will be “greeted” upon arrival by members of the South African Police Service (SAPS).
  • The offending passenger will be added to the “no-fly” list and will not be allowed to board any FlySafair flights in future.
  • If, in the interest of health and safety, the plane’s captain deems it necessary to divert the flight, all inherent costs – estimated to be around R100,00 – will be billed to the offending passenger.  

The cost of diverting a plane takes into account the fuel wasted due to rerouting and can include maintenance, ground crew, rotating a new cabin crew and re-booking passengers. While this extreme case remains an option, Kirby confirms that it’s the only reaction which has not yet been implemented in response to a passenger refusing to wear a face mask.

“When the aircraft is still on the ground they [the passenger refusing to wear a face mask] will then be asked to leave the flight,” says Kirby.

“If it’s in the air the captain will make the call. He can divert the aircraft to offload the person if he feels the risk is great for whatever reason, or the person will be isolated in an empty row and we’ll alert the authorities on the arrival side, as we are required to do.”

In October 2020, FlySafair Flight FA288 was forced to turn back while taxiing on O.R Tambo International Airport’s runway after a passenger refused to wear a face mask. The passenger was escorted off the aircraft by police.

“We’ve not as yet had to divert a flight during flight,” explains Kirby, who adds that since government has stressed the criminal aspect of non-compliance, the frequency of passengers refusing to mask-up has dropped dramatically.

“Thankfully the non-compliance has happened on the ground so it’s not a matter of landing again, just returning to the terminal.”

Passengers have also been added to the “no-fly” list because of their refusal to comply, confirms Kirby. On the issue of offending passengers being handed over to the police upon arrival, Kirby says that the cabin crew offer a statement to the authorities but are “not informed” of resulting charges beyond that.

“We hand the person over to the authorities and our teams give a statement… beyond that we have no idea what actually happens thereafter.”

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