Fikile Mbalula gives FlySafair's R750 'block a seat' option thumbs-up

04 June 2020 - 07:45 By Unathi Nkanjeni
Transport minister Fikile Mbalula not opposing FlySafairs' R750 “block a seat” option.
Transport minister Fikile Mbalula not opposing FlySafairs' R750 “block a seat” option.
Image: Fikile Mbalula via Twitter

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula sees no problem with FlySafairs' R750 “block a seat” option.

He addressed the media on the readiness of domestic flights at OR Tambo Airport on Wednesday and said there was nothing wrong with the airline introducing the option.

“We cannot be opposed to it,” said Mbalula. “I'm not a spokesperson for FlySafair ... it is a marketing tool. They don't need our permission for that.”

FlySafair will resume flights from June 8 for travellers with permits. On Tuesday, the airline announced that it was offering passengers the option to “block a seat” at an extra cost of R750.

The “blocking” option is for passengers concerned about flying during the pandemic. It means if a traveller occupies the window or aisle seat, they won't have anyone sitting next to them.

In addition, the airline will also charge a mandatory R20 “Covid-19 fee” for all passengers flying during the pandemic. The R20 is to cover temperature screening before boarding, hand sanitiser, face masks and aircraft sanitisation.

Explaining the R750 charge, FlySafair spokesperson Ben Fleming said the airline wanted to offer its customers the option for their own “peace of mind”.

“For clarity, both parties will be required to pay the fee. The R750 charge doesn't cover the average fare that could be achieved on the empty seat, so the hope is to achieve that through having two parties pay the fee,” Fleming said.

Does an empty seat guarantee safety? 

According to International Air Transport Association (Iata), leaving the middle seat empty is not a significantly effective measure in preventing the spread of the virus.

Iata also said it does not recommend restricting the use of the middle seat to create social distancing while on-board aircraft.

“Screening, face coverings and masks are among the many layers of measures that we are recommending. Leaving the middle seat empty, however, is not,” said Alexandre de Juniac, Iata’s director-general and CEO.

Juniac also said leaving the middle seat empty would have an effect on the economy.

“Airlines are fighting for their survival. Eliminating the middle seat will raise costs. If that can be offset with higher fares, the era of affordable travel will come to an end.

“On the other hand, if airlines can’t recoup the costs in higher fares, airlines will go bust. Neither is a good option when the world will need strong connectivity to help kick-start the recovery from Covid-19’s economic devastation,” he said.