Moving into the second quarter of 2021, South Africans remain largely cut off from Asia-Pacific (APAC), the region encompassing South, East and Southeast Asia and Australasia.
Airlines serving these routes have thinned out dramatically, and many services have been put on temporary hold to comply with their own government regulations prohibiting inbound flights or prohibiting traffic originating in South Africa, for fear of the so-called SA variant of Covid-19. Some may fly to South Africa, but may not carry South Africa-originating traffic back to their home base.
This, say agents, can be confusing when flights appear to be operating on a certain route, (when viewed on the GDS) whereas in fact, they are sometimes (a) not actually operating at all or, (b) operating but prevented from carrying traffic from South Africa to their home country.
Market development manager of Singapore Airlines, Sally George, explained that due to Singapore government regulations implemented on January 3, only Singapore citizens and Singapore permanent residents were allowed to enter Singapore on flights departing from South Africa.
Sally explained that Singapore Airlines was still committed to servicing its South African routes, which continued to operate, transporting permitted inbound passengers, Singaporean residents and nationals and cargo. As the flights are still operating and are still bookable from various points of sale around the world, they are still reflecting in the GDS, which is causing agents some confusion. Sally said that the regulations had been imposed by the Singaporean government and not the airline. Travel advisories are available on the Singapore Airlines website and agents are encouraged to check the travel advisories for all destinations in the travel itinerary to ensure the latest requirements are met before they book seats in the GDS.
Cathay Pacific was expected to return to South Africa at the end of March but the airline sent out a notification last week that its operations to and from Johannesburg had been further suspended until June 30.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented challenges across the aviation industry, including a drop in travel demand. Given the severity of the dynamic situation, we have suspended flight operations from Johannesburg until June 30. However, we remain agile in adjusting our operations in accordance with market demand,” said a Cathay Pacific spokesperson in response to Travel News questions.
When Etihad closed its South African office late last year, and terminated the employment of all its South Africa staff, it claimed it had only suspended its Johannesburg flights for the winter 2020/2021 season. An Etihad representative responded to Travel News questions saying that presently daily Johannesburg flights were in the system from October 31, 2021, but due to the continued impact of COVID-19 on global travel, the winter 2020 schedule is still under review. “Refunds are permitted for all future bookings with an original travel date on or after 1 October 2020, where any of the flights on the on the booking have been cancelled by Etihad. The airline is also providing flexible options for existing bookings.”
But a search in the GDS indicated that the airline’s Johannesburg flights are scheduled to return in November this year, if indeed they do return at all.
Qantas recently confirmed to Travel News that its flights to South Africa were only expected to resume on October 31, which aligns with the expected timeframe for Australia’s COVID vaccine roll-out to be effectively complete, and hopefully for Australian borders to open up.
The suspension of passenger uplift from South Africa to Dubai was further extended this week, and while Emirates has announced the resumption of its daily passenger services to Johannesburg, South Africans also cannot travel on the flights to Dubai.
The conspicuous exception is Qatar Airways, which continues to fly 28 flights a week from South Africa, 18 from Johannesburg, seven from Cape Town and three from Durban, providing connectivity to its network.
David van den Heever-Liebenberg, travel director of Marmalade Toast Bespoke Travel and Destination Management, said Qatar Airways was offering extremely good fares and connections to Asia at present. While Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways and Turkish Airlines were also displaying as options in the GDS, the connections on some of these carriers’ Asian routes were not always convenient.
Owner of Sure Map Travel, Melissa Philips, agreed that Qatar Airways was currently one of very few reliable options to reach Asia from South Africa.