With new airports opening from 1 July and South Africa’s Alert Level 3 regulations heralding in the return of business travel, you might be ready to pack your bags. Or not.
Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula recently announced that in addition to the original four main airports in South Africa that are currently operating, the following domestic airports will reopen from 1 July:
- Bram Fischer International Airport
- Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport
- Pietermaritzburg Airport
- Port Elizabeth International Airport
- Richards Bay Airport
- Skukuza Airport
- Upington International Airport
He added that meals will once again be available onboard. These meals must be pre-packed and placed in front of the seat for each passenger before the passenger boards the aircraft to minimise movement during flight.
It looks like business travel is slowly but surely returning to normal. Or is it? Are nerves around an imminent business trip keeping you up at night? Oz Desai, GM Flight Centre Business Travel, takes a closer look at travellers’ most pressing concerns.
Health and Safety
Am I putting the health of my family at risk if I travel? After being told to ‘stay home and stay safe’ for the last few months, it can feel quite daunting to get onto an airplane.
You can rest assured, the stringent safety measures have been put in place at all the airports that are operational to mitigate any health risks, including: only allowing air ticket holders into the terminal buildings (drop off and pick up only permitted outside); health screening (including temperature checks) on entry; strict social distancing measures (including self-scanning of boarding passes); and deep-cleaning and frequent sanitisation of terminal buildings and aircraft.
You can protect yourself by adhering to the protocols and measures put in place – including wearing a mask for the duration of your journey and using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser. Always keep a travel-sized (max 100ml) bottle on you.
Your journey will look quite different to what you are used to, from physical distancing around baggage carousels to the PPE worn by the cabin crew. And while this might invoke some anxiety, it should also bring peace of mind.
All the protocols put in place are to protect your health, follow the guidelines, play your part and you should have very little to worry about.
Cabin Air Quality
The old ‘recycled air’ worry. Even pre-pandemic, travellers were concerned about coming down with colds and flu after a plane trip.
South Africa’s Minister of Transport, Fikile Mbalula has assured the travelling public that the risk of contracting COVID-19 on an aircraft is much lower than in other confined spaces and public transport. All aircraft are fitted with high-level HEPA filters that eliminate all viruses, including the coronavirus.
According to FlySafair, HEPA filters successfully remove 99.999% of even the smallest viruses, including those measuring just 0.01 micrometres. The coronavirus family measures between 0.08 and 0.16 micrometres and therefore extracted by the HEPA filters very effectively.
Will I need to wear a mask for the entire trip? Yes. Unfortunately, HEPA filters don’t negate the need for a mask. Think of it as just another layer of protection – both for you and others.
Understandably, many travellers still balk at the idea of wearing a mask for any length of time. But as the weeks have gone by, masks have evolved and you can now get your hands on masks which are designed to assist air flow, prevent fogging of glasses and sit comfortably on your face.
Desai says that business travellers can expect a little more admin in terms of the documentation required: “Passengers must have the correct travel documents with them before leaving home, this includes your ID and a permit to travel for business.”
A professional travel consultant or travel management company (TMC) will be able to help you navigate the new regulations with ease.
“Unfortunately permits and permissions are necessary – at least for the foreseeable future,” says Desai, “Luckily TMCs are on hand to help, and can advise travellers on the documentation that is required, the different airline regulations and requirements as well as the safety guidelines put in place by hotels and other accommodation establishments.”
The Question of Quarantine
Perhaps the biggest concern of all, is the idea that you would have to spend time in quarantine pre or post a trip.
Although, not an issue when travelling within South Africa’s borders (unless a health check before departure warrants further investigation and self-quarantine), once international travel opens the threat of quarantine may well cause anxiety levels to rise!
Some countries will allow self-quarantine, others will force passengers to go to government-directed facilities or pre-identified hospitals. For example, the UK is now enforcing a two-week quarantine period and passengers arriving in the UK by plane, ferry or train – including UK nationals – will be asked to provide an address where they will self-isolate for 14 days.
Travellers will also need to understand South Africa’s approach when returning from ‘high-risk’ countries.
Other tips to ease anxiety? Confirm your flight details in advance, make sure to check-in online – and get to the airport early. You’ll need to allow a couple of hours for security and health checks. But follow the health and safety guidelines in place and you’ll be all set for a safe and successful trip.