Flying internationally from South Africa – here’s what to expect

The Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) has welcomed the country’s move to a level lockdown and says that it is prepared for the gradual lifting of restrictions on international flights but has warned that passengers will need to jump through extra hoops if they plan on travelling.

Addressing the nation on Wednesday evening (16 September), president Cyril Ramaphosa said that the government will gradually ease restrictions on international travel for business and leisure from 1 October – subject to certain containment measures.

International travel will only be allowed through the main border ports or through OR Tambo International, Cape Town International, or King Shaka International.

Acsa said it is still awaiting official regulations and directives from the Department of Transport which are set to be published in the coming days.

However, it reiterated comments by president Cyril Ramaphosa and warned that travellers need to be absolutely certain of their eligibility to fly and that they are in possession of valid visas to enter or re-enter South Africa before booking flights.

It added that the following requirements will need to met:

  • On arrival, travellers will need to present a negative Covid-19 test result not older than 72 hours from time of departure;
  • All travellers will be screened on arrival and those presenting with symptoms will be required to have Covid-19 test; and
  • Where necessary, travellers will need to enter mandatory quarantine facilities at their own cost.

“People wishing to travel across borders should monitor our ACSA website for airports and airlines operating during Level 1 and the airline web sites for availability of flights,” it said.

“We expect the number of international passengers to grow gradually as this is an important step on the road to recovery. We greatly look forward to once again welcoming international visitors to our international airports and to South Africa.”

The list 

The list of countries that will be allowed for international travel is likely to be limited when travel restarts again on 1 October. Ramaphosa said that the list of permitted countries will be published at a later date and the country’s selected on the latest scientific data.

While not mentioned in his address, reports indicate that travel will likely focus on regional travel, including neighbouring countries and parts of Africa.

Tourism minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane has indicated that her department is focusing on creating a ‘regional travel bubble’.

“Our next step is to work towards the reopening of international travel,” she said in a media briefing on 4 September. “We are monitoring the risk of the virus spread and we are satisfied with the current downward trend of new infections, if sustained, can fast-track the reopening of regional borders soon.”

In this way, through regional coordination with our regional partners, we could create a regional travel bubble, she said.

“Africa land markets form the bedrock of tourism in South Africa. This region alone accounts for 71% of international arrivals. This would give a further boost to the recovery efforts of the sector.”

“The rise in domestic tourism together with regional travel will help us build confidence for global travellers so that when we eventually open all are borders, we will be able to attract traveller as a safe destination.”

What it will be like to fly 

Government already has strict rules in place for domestic travel, with clear regulations for both airports and airlines.

Passengers are allowed inside the terminal buildings and that temperature screening will be conducted at terminal building entrances before any passenger is allowed entry. No passengers will be allowed inside the terminal buildings without masks.

All the airports have markings on the floor for social distancing of 1.5 metres. This will be applicable at check-in counters, security checkpoints and airport lounges.

All airline check-in agents will wear face shields and the counters will be installed with protective screens. Check-in counters will also be frequently sanitised.

The check-in process is as follows:

  • Passengers should check-in online before going to the airport;
  • Online check-in can be done at the screens in the terminal building;
  • A limited number of check-in counters will be open and physical distancing rules will apply in these queues;
  • Using a check-in counter will take longer.

The security checkpoint process is as follows:

  • Passengers will scan their own paper-based or mobile device-based boarding pass to the scanner at the security checkpoint;
  • Passengers should remove any metal and electronic items from their person before entering the security queue;
  • These items must be placed in the tray at the security scanner;
  • This process will minimise the need for security officers to conduct physical pat-downs at the checkpoint.

The boarding process is as follows:

  • Physical distancing rules apply for queues to board an aircraft;
  • Passengers must scan their own boarding pass at the boarding gate;
  • Boarding will be done in a controlled manner with passengers travelling in the rear seats of the aircraft boarding first. Passengers with tickets for Row A, for example, will board last;
  • Masks must be worn for the duration of the flight.

The following measures will apply inside the cabin of the aircraft:

  • No catering will be allowed:
  • No magazines on board;
  • The last row will be reserved for isolation of suspected cases.
  • All aircrafts must be disinfected before entering into service and after each flight.

The disembarkation process will be as follows:

  • Masks must continue to be used when disembarking and moving towards the baggage carousels;
  • Physical distancing rules will apply at the baggage carousels;
  • Crowding close to the baggage carousels will not be permitted