Coronavirus, lack of demand forces SAA to suspend international flights

20 March 2020 - 13:56 By Amina Asma and Ernest Mabuza
SAA announced on Friday it has cancelled all international flights.
SAA announced on Friday it has cancelled all international flights.
Image: Gallo Images / The Times / Alon Skuy

SAA on Friday announced that it will immediately suspend all international operations until the end of May, in response to a government travel ban aimed at stopping the transmission of the coronavirus.

The Covid-19 pandemic and attendant travel restrictions have resulted in a substantial decline in demand for air travel. The situation has caused many airlines around the world to ground aircraft, release employees and cancel flights.

For SAA the decision means that the airline will only render services on its regional and domestic routes.

Following the declaration of the state of disaster in SA, the government announced a travel ban and issued regulations aimed at combating the spread of the virus.

The South African government says it is revoking 8,000 visas issued to Chinese nationals as part of a travel ban aimed at countries with a high risk of coronavirus. This was being done as in line with efforts to reduce the risk of the virus coming in via high risk countries. Here's what we know so far about travel in and out of SA.

The announcement on Friday followed an announcement on Wednesday it had cancelled a number of flights as the pandemic grew.   

The airline said the suspension of flights follows the gazetting of regulations and the issuing of a Notice to Airmen (Notam), an official government notice prohibiting the embarkation and disembarkation of crew and passengers from SAA’s three international destinations.

The regulation is effective from Friday.

SAA’s high-risk destinations are New York, Washington DC, Frankfurt and London.

The regulations issued on Thursday also state that the disembarkation of foreign citizens upon arrival from high-risk countries is suspended.

“In support of efforts by government to deal with this pandemic, and in the best interests of our crew, passengers and the public, we have decided to suspend all international flights until May 31.

“It is a responsibility of all of us and not just government to curb further transmission of the virus, especially because we operate in the high-risk regions,” said SAA Acting CEO Zuks Ramasia.

Rhodes University student Shelsea Buque, from Mozambique, said she has been directly affected by SAA's decisions.

She was returning home from SA after a directive from Blade Nzimande, the minister of higher education, science and technology, who ordered institutions of higher learning to shut down to curb the spread of Covid-19.

“I received an e-mail of the cancellation on Thursday evening and I was due to fly out on Friday afternoon,” said Buque.

She told TimesLIVE how fortunate she was that the booking was made through a travel agent, who was able to make alternative arrangements for her to fly with a Mozambican airline.

“One of my friends was not as fortunate as me and is currently stranded at OR Tambo [International Airport in Johannesburg] trying to make a plan.”