ACSA Dark days for SA airports

Domestic travel at airports run by ACSA has recovered to 56% of pre-COVID-19 traffic, while regional and international traffic segments are still lagging behind. Image: Pixabay

International airlines cut number of flights to South Africa

Airlines operating flights to South Africa are reporting extremely low passenger numbers.

ACSA Dark days for SA airports

Domestic travel at airports run by ACSA has recovered to 56% of pre-COVID-19 traffic, while regional and international traffic segments are still lagging behind. Image: Pixabay

The phenomenon, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, is forcing companies to reduce some of their flights to South Africa.

International airlines operating flights to South Africa report that passenger numbers are averaging only 20 to 40% per flight. This is according to Carla da Silva, chairperson of the Board of Airline Representatives of South Africa (Barsa).   


There was much jubilation and excitement on 16 September, when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that South Africa would be opening its borders and allowing the return of international scheduled flights from 1 October, as a result of the shift to lockdown level one.

The move was welcomed by international airlines, including KLM, Air France and Lufthansa, which had been patiently waiting for a start-up date to resume scheduled flights to South Africa.   


Several international airlines eagerly restarted scheduled services to South African destinations including Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.  

Lufthansa was the first airline to arrive in South Africa, with a flight from Frankfurt touching down in Johannesburg on 1 October.

The airline’s regional manager, Andre Schulz, said Lufthansa was pleased to be the first airline to arrive after the six-month travel ban, and reaffirmed the company’s commitment to South Africa.

An Emirates Airlines flight was the first from an international airline to land in Cape Town on 1 October. On arrival, the aircraft received a water cannon salute, which is customarily given to an airline when arriving at an airport for the very first time.

There is little demand for flights as nationals from several countries may still not enter South Africa for tourism purposes. Image: Adobe Stock


Though several international airlines have resumed flights to South Africa since 1 October, there have been some teething problems.

Confusion over entry requirements for airline crew resulted in Emirates Airlines crew having to quarantine in hotels in South Africa on crew stayovers.

The confusion caused mayhem, resulting in airlines temporarily suspending flights to South Africa.

Barsa promptly engaged with government to  resolve the matter, enabling airlines to operate their flights without requiring quarantines for crew.


In March, South Africa implemented visa requirements for nationals from high-risk countries. The visa regime had not yet been lifted when the borders reopened on 1 October, resulting in certain nationalities not being allowed to board flights to South Africa or being refused entry on arrival.

Several German nationals on a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt were refused entry on arrival in Johannesburg on 2 October due to not having the required visas.

A diplomatic spat was averted when the South African government swiftly removed the temporary visa regime it had implemented at the start of the lockdown.


South Africa permits entry to foreign visitors according to the level of risk posed when entering the country.  By excluding certain nationalities from entering South Africa, airlines operating flights to South Africa from those countries cannot fill their flights.

“We are all trying to navigate through this storm and there is little to work with in terms of demand due to the restrictive government regulations,” Da Silva said in an interview with Tourism Update.

Many of the countries on the high-risk list, including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, the UK and US, have traditionally provided a large number of tourists to South Africa, and thus also offered direct scheduled flights to this country.


Since nationals from numerous countries are still not permitted to enter South Africa for tourism purposes, there is little demand for flights between South Africa and many countries.

However, visitors from high-risk nationalities may apply for entry clearance if they wish to travel to South Africa for business. At present there are very few of these types of visitor.

“This reduction in demand is compounded by a reduction in business traffic – as corporations have become accustomed to conducting business on a virtual platform.”

Barsa spokesperson Carla da Silva


Airlines are revising their flight schedules to South Africa in light of the current conditions.

Egyptair regional manager Hossam Zak said it would not continue to operate long-haul flights with low numbers of passengers. Egyptair will therefore reduce its flights to South Africa in November.  

“Our load factor is very low in November and does not exceed 18 and 28% for our flights on November 12 and 13,” Zaky said.

Other factors have also contributed to the low number of passengers on flights to and from South Africa. A drop in passenger confidence for flying and fear of contracting the virus on planes are key factors.


As a second wave of infections surges in many countries, the demand for travel has declined once again.

Governments in many European countries have implemented lockdowns and closed their borders. This means travel between South Africa and several countries will be stifled.

“The second wave of infections in Europe is also impacting the situation.”

Carla da Silva