National carrier South African Airways (SAA) is scaling down its capacity, as coronavirus impacts consumer demand, the airline said in a statement issued on Wednesday.
The airline is cancelling as much as 162 flights between 17 March and 31 March 2020. Of these 38 are international and 124 are regional, it said.
"The effects of the outbreak of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) have led to travel disruptions and restrictions across the world, leading to the grounding of aircraft, releasing employees, and cancelling flights for many airlines. SAA is not immune to these realities," the airline said.
SAA has had to review its flight schedule and will only operate flights under circumstances where its load factors and other business considerations "weigh in favour" of scheduling flights, it said.
"Notwithstanding the decline in demand, SAA continues to aggressively review its schedule to match capacity with demand to the extent possible. Where feasible, we will consider options that include cancelling and merging flights," said SAA Chief Commercial Officer, Philip Saunders.
SAA said it would continue to provide services on domestic, regional and international routes for passengers' whose travel is essential and can't be avoided. The airline will also continue to operate flights to destinations not impacted by the travel ban announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday.
SAA will also be taking on passengers from other airlines, who want to travel back to South Africa. At a briefing on Tuesday Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan said SAA had been getting requests to take on passengers from international airlines who had grounded their aircraft amid the Covid-19 outbreak.
"Our priority is to assist those travellers wishing to repatriate to their home countries to do so as quickly and efficiently as possible. Naturally, this includes South African citizens abroad wishing to return home," Saunders said.
SAA has also allowed one free ticket change to customers who have had to adjust their travel plans given the travel ban.
Earlier on Tuesday SA Express said it would suspend operations until further notice. Its passengers would be accommodated by alternative airlines.