State-owned South African Airways (SAA) has explained why it has suspended all its international flights until May 31. (The suspension was announced on Friday and took immediate effect.)
“In support of efforts by Government to deal with this [Covid-19] pandemic, and in the best interests of our crew, passengers and the public, we have decided to suspend all international flights until 31 May 2020. It is all our responsibility, not just Government, to curb further transmission of the virus,” affirmed SAA acting CEO Zuks Ramasia in a statement released on Friday. “In addition, the increasing risks to our crew of contracting the virus including the possibility of being trapped in foreign destinations as a consequence of increasing travel bans cannot be ignored.”
South Africa had itself already imposed travel bans, issuing the necessary regulations on Thursday. “Disembarkation of foreign nationals from high-risk countries is suspended on airports upon arrival,” stated the regulations. Exemptions were made for returning South Africans and permanent residents of South Africa, for medical emergencies (in the case of foreign citizens, this required approval by Port Health), and (for embarkation) departing foreign citizens.
The regulations also stated that “upon landing, crew from high risk countries shall be subject to medical screening and quarantined for 21 days”. SAA had scheduled services to three countries listed by the authorities as high risk – Germany, the UK and the US. It also had routes to Australia and Brazil, which have not (yet) been declared high risk. However the airline decided to suspend these routes as well.
“We also recognise the fluidity in the conditions we operate in and the need to respond to these changes with speed, to this end we commit to keep all our stakeholders abreast of any changes on an ongoing basis,” she assured. The airline would do so through media releases, its partners in the travel trade, and its own official channels (including its website).
SAA, which is in business rescue, expressed its regret at any inconvenience caused to its customers, Passengers should contact SAA call centres or their travel agents. “We thank customers for their support by continuing to place their trust in South African Airways with their travel plans,” said Ramasia.