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Watch: Confusion as SAA ‘abandons’ stranded South Africans in the US

Despite managing to get hundreds of other South Africans home from Washington this weekend, SAA haS been accused of ditching some passengers.


Image via Adobe Stock

A number of complaints have been shared with DIRCO and South African Airways (SAA) on Monday, after a flight from Washington DC, USA is believed to have left American soil without repatriating a number of passengers who were hoping to return home. Although hundreds of our expats did make it back, concerns have been raised for an apparent group of “left-behinds”.

South Africans ‘left behind’ in US after SAA “glitches”

The situation descended into farce over the weekend. The South Africans attempting to leave the US had already forked out an alleged fee of R15 000 for their tickets and were told to arrive at the airport on 4 May. However, it was then confirmed that one of the planned flights for Sunday had been pushed back to Friday.

What’s the issue?

One SAA flight did depart Washington on Sunday, but not everyone hoping to board managed to get themselves a seat. A chaotic system that required people to register their details with DIRCO, SAA and the local South African Embassy told customers they would be issued with tickets after making payment.

Some people were confirmed for the flight, only for staff at the airport to tell them that their booking ‘was not on the system’. Others were simply told that their tickets had been cancelled, with very little explanation for why. The entire mismanaged situation has thrown some of our compatriots abroad into turmoil.

SAA, diplomatic groups clash

SA’s Embassy in Washington DC has pointed the finger at SAA, despite the airline stressing that citizens wanting to return home must take their grievances to DIRCO and the political authorities. At this stage, the stranded cohort will have to wait another few days before getting on the next planned flight.

“We can confirm one flight has been moved from 4 May to 9 May. For these customers, once SAA has processed your payment and has checked against the verification list of South African Citizens – which the Embassy, DIRCO and Home Affairs have supplied them – your ticket will be issued directly to you by SAA.”

“Many of you are struggling to get through via the phone lines and email responses, this is due to the high volume of emails and calls currently being received, we are trying our best to get to everyone – in an effort to assist us do this please do not send multiple emails on the same issue if you have already done so.”

SA Embassy in Washington DC

South African Airways criticised for conduct

Several accounts of the chaos have been shared second-hand, in complaints sent to SAA on Twitter:

Thuso Ntamu: “A friend on an accounting exchange program told me this last night. They sent them email confirmation and everything only to be left at airport because they didn’t appear on the system at boarding”.

Luyanda Bhunu: “My brother was supposed to be in South Africa at 17:00 but he got to Washington airport only to find out he doesn’t have seat number but his name is on the list… SAA had a glitch on their system.”

Wandile Thebede: “They’ve been kept at some place in Washington. We spoke to someone around 2:00 and they told us the Embassy did everything they could to help our people. The pilot waited, but SAA did not care”