South African private sector airline Airlink has announced that it is working with State-owned flag carrier South African Airways (SAA) to ensure a smooth process for the revalidation and re-accommodation of tickets and vouchers issued by SAA for future Airlink flights. When scheduled air passenger travel resumes once the current national anti-Covid-19 lockdown is lifted (currently set for April 20), Airlink will resume operations, using its own 4Z flight code.
Previously, Airlink operated under a franchise agreement with SAA, as a result of which Airlink used SAA flight codes (with the prefix 083). With SAA under business rescue, Airlink announced in January that the two airlines had replaced their franchise agreement with a new commercial relationship which, among other things, would see Airlink abandoning SAA flight codes is favour of its own.
Originally, the new agreement was meant to come into effect on June 11. “However, should SAA’s circumstances worsen, then Airlink will activate the transition sooner – immediately, if necessary,” said Airlink CEO and MD Rodger Foster back in January. Since then, the Covid-19 pandemic has reached South Africa, leading to an almost total halt in South African air passenger travel and creating a dramatically different situation. As a result, the implementation of the new system has been brought forward to April 20.
“[T]he unprecedented nature of the Covid-19 crisis has compelled SAA to reassess and amend their respective refund policy,” pointed out Airlink in its press release. “In this regard, SAA is currently providing affected ticket-holders with vouchers for travel on SAA flights on future dates in lieu of refunds.”
But as Airlink will be using its own 4Z code after the lockdown ends, it will, as things now stand, be unable to accept 083-prefix tickets or vouchers from SAA. “Therefore teams from both airlines are working together to develop a clear and transparent solution that will permit the re-accommodation or revalidation of SAA-issued 083 tickets on Airlink flights into Airlink’s 4Z reservation system or alternatively for Airlink to issue vouchers for travel on Airlink on future dates,” assured the private-sector operator.
Airlink apologised for the confusion, concern and stress caused to customers by these changes. “It is important for Airlink customers to be aware that in terms of Airlink’s franchise relationship with SAA, ticket sale revenue resides with SAA for all 083 SAA tickets until such time as Airlink has delivered the flight service,” stressed Airlink. “Airlink cannot refund tickets as the ticket sale revenue is in SAA’s possession.”
Once the lockdown has ended, Airlink plans to phase in what it, on its website, calls “a new optimised schedule of services”. It describes itself as a regional feeder airline and has level four broad-based black economic empowerment certification. It possesses the largest commercial jet airliner fleet in Southern Africa (it also operates turboprop aircraft) and last year carried nearly two-million passengers on more than 63 000 flights.