UPDATE: Emirates Resumes Flights
After the writing of this article, Emirates announced service to South Africa will resume in full tomorrow, with flights to Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg operating. Crews will not be required to submit negative COVID-19 tests, but will be required to self-isolate in their hotel rooms without them. The new policy has not been officially communicated by the South African government.
Mass confusion over updated visa rules, which impact passengers and airline crews alike, may force more carriers to pull out of South Africa. Emirates has already suspended service to Durban and Cape Town and Lufthansa is reportedly considering a suspension too.
Emirates Suspends South Africa Service As Visa Confusion Reigns
In South Africa, visa requirements are set by the Ministry of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA). While South Africa has recently re-opened its international borders, even COGTA’s own press release is unclear concerning its new visa policy and any exceptions which may apply.
Thus, the problem is not only new visa requirements, but uncertainty surrounding them. Press reports and airlines cannot even say with clarity if or when visas are required. The government has so far not clarified.
These restrictions, including mandatory self-quarantine, impact not only passengers, but regularly-tested airline crewmembers.
On Sunday, Emirates cancelled most service to South Africa. It cited the sudden change in visa policy as the reason, specifically noting that the new rules treat airline crews the same as passengers. Today’s flight to Durban was also cancelled. Tomorrow’s flight to Johannesburg is still scheduled, but will not operate absent clarity concerning visa waivers for crews.
Manny de Freitas, a Member of the South African Parliament with the Democratic Alliance, condemned the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party for this cancellation:
“The cancellation with immediate effect of key Emirates flights to South Africa comes as a direct result of national government’s shambolic management of the reopening of South Africa’s borders for leisure travel in a time when our tourism industry is in dire straits.”
Emirates declined to comment for this story.
Was A Lufthansa Flight Turned Away?
Turning to Lufthansa, de Freitas also added:
“It is also reported that although passengers are arriving in South Africa with a negative Covid-19 test no older than 72 hours, as requested by government regulation, travellers are still being turned away from ports. On Friday, 2 October 2020, another prominent international airline for South Africa, Lufthansa, was reportedly refused entry at OR Tambo International Airport for not meeting the visa requirement, when this requirement seemingly does not exist…
The website of the German Foreign Office in Pretoria states it is “not known” whether a visa was required to visit South Africa and that it was “seeking clarification.”
The result: numerous reports suggesting Lufthansa may also suspend service to South Africa and other international airlines could follow.
De Freitas added:
“The ANC’s complete and utter mismanagement of such a crucial economic sector has once again made us the laughingstock of the travel world. But, more crucially, it has placed the livelihoods of millions of South Africans at peril. Regulations surrounding international travel and tourism must be clarified as a matter of urgency if we are to protect an industry upon which countless jobs rely in an economy which lies in tatters.”
While “laughingstock of the travel world” may be an overstatement, clarification of who can travel to South Africa and how should be a top priority for the government.
image: Curimedia / Flickr