Flights cancelled to Johannesburg
(Photo by: Edwin Remsberg/VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
  • South African airlines are dropping penalty fees for tickets cancelled at the last minute.
  • This follows government’s decision to impose Adjusted Alert Level 4 lockdown which prohibits leisure travel to and from Gauteng.
  • Airlines say they’re experiencing a surge in queries following the president’s Sunday-night address.
  • FlySafair, Kulula, and Airlink are directing passengers to permits which allow for work-related travel, attending a funeral and caring for an immediate family member.
  •  For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

The ban on leisure travel to and from Gauteng has left South African airlines scrambling to adjust their flight cancellation policies, with many scrapping penalties fees for last-minute changes.

Under Adjusted Alert Level 4 lockdown, which came into effect on Monday and is expected to last for at least two weeks, Gauteng, as the hotspot of South Africa’s Covid-19 outbreak, is subjected harsher restrictions.

In addition to the prohibition of alcohol, banning of all social gatherings and stricter hours of curfew – imposed on all provinces in South Africa – the movement of people to and from Gauteng will now also be regulated. A ban on leisure travel is intended to contain the spread of Covid-19 to Gauteng, which already accounts for more than 60% of the country’s active caseload, and impacts visitors to the province as well as those looking to journey from it.

People travelling for work, to attend a funeral or returning home are exempt from the ban but must possess a permit signed by a magistrate or police station commander. School pupils and travellers-in-transit are also afforded a reprieve although the gazetted regulations are unclear as to what permits are required to authorise travel.

Anybody found to be in contravention of these regulations – by travelling into or out of Gauteng without permission – can be fined or jailed.

The sudden implementation of these new rules, coinciding with the approaching school holidays at a time when interprovincial travel increases, has overwhelmed South Africa’s airlines.

Popular low-cost carrier, FlySafair, says it is experiencing a surge in queries and concerns regarding flights which have been booked to depart from and arrive in Gauteng over the next two weeks.

“Understandably a number of customers have reached out to us this morning looking to make changes to their reservations,” FlySafair’s Chief Marketing Officer, Kirby Gordon, told Business Insider South Africa on Monday.

“We do ask our customers to bear with us as we work through very high contact volumes.”

Passengers who cancel flights within 24-hours of the departure time are traditionally hit with a penalty fee. To minimise the financial impact on its customers, FlySafair has updated its cancellation policy by temporary halting these penalty fees.

“We are dropping all our penalty fees which means that customers can make penalty-free changes on their bookings and can also cancel their bookings for a full refund to wallet,” said Kirby. Passengers will, however, need to pay a fare difference if their new tickets cost more than those originally purchased.

South Africa’s newest carrier, LIFT Airline, is also experiencing a “high volume of emails” following Ramaphosa’s announcement on Sunday night. It, too, has decided to scrap penalty fees on last-minute cancellations.

“We will also temporarily amend our policies to allow travellers to change or cancel flights with less than 24-hours notice. No admin fees will be charged but any difference in fares may still apply,” the airline, which only operates between Johannesburg and Cape Town, said in statement.

“For business travellers we will require an official letter with a company letterhead stating that the purpose of travel is business related.”

Airlink, which operates in more than 35 destinations across Africa, has revised its flight schedule to comply with the new hours of curfew. Although the regulations allow for passengers to travel between 21:00 and 04:00 – so long as they can present their boarding passes as proof – Airlink has updated departure times for at least 20 flights.

“Travellers flying to or from Gauteng for business or essential purposes should download and complete the relevant permits as they may be required to present it to law enforcement or Port Health officials,” said a statement issued by Airlink on Monday.

Airlink permits one free date change for tickets purchased before 31 December 2021.

The updated regulations require travellers to possess a permit which authorises travel to and from Gauteng. This includes a “business travel” form (Form 7) which must be signed by the company. Travellers attending a funeral will need to have Form 6 signed at a police station or magistrate's court. Form 6 – an affidavit that permits travel to care for an immediate family member – can be signed by a Commissioner of Oaths.

And while it’s not yet clear which authority is responsible for vetting travellers arriving in or departing from Gauteng – the department of health and department of transport did not respond to queries from Business Insider SA – airlines are encouraging passengers to get their paperwork in order before flying.

“Previously when these sorts of measures were put in place the screening was done by the Port Health Authority,” explained Kirby.

“We’ve not been advised that processes will be any different this time around. That said we have constructed online tools using the permit templates in the Government Gazette to help travellers create these permits.”

Kulula has also urged ticket-holders intending to travel to and from Gauteng to complete the relevant travel permits.

Kirby added that passengers would be directed to the permits when making bookings to travel to or from Gauteng. “These documents will then need to be presented to authorities before passing security at the airports.”

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