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What to know about Air Travel during Lockdown

Corona has put a halt to normal. Impacting every facet of our lives, relationships and movement one can hardly say there is still any kind of normal. Some would say the pause button was necessary to pull us back from a slope we could not control anymore. Many are happy for the breather but most are stressing about their health, emotional wellbeing and their ability to earn a living when businesses are forced to be closed or scale back.

Amidst all this stress about how painful everything has become, I did not expect that travel would be one of those things that would become a pleasure in this time of Covid-19. While I enjoy travel when it means I get to see new countries and explore the world, I am not one that enjoys airports. I hate waiting. I am restless by nature so the idea of arriving 2 hours before my flight and sitting around waiting to board is pure torture. It is a constant bugbear between my husband and me. He likes arriving early so he’s not stressing about missing his flight. I get there at the last minute just in time for the flight. So when Uber came on the scene a few years ago, and I did not have to drop him off at the airport for business trips anymore, I’m pretty sure it saved our marriage. Thank you Uber for that.

Last week I travelled to Cape Town from Johannesburg as my mother had gotten very ill. We had just entered lockdown Level 3 Advanced, which meant sit-down restaurants and contact services like hairdressers could operate again. It also meant more inter-provincial travel is allowed. Now you can travel for business, to care for a sick relative, or for a funeral. And of course essential services travel has been allowed.

Related: Airports is South Africa with halaal food and facilities

Currently only 2 airlines are operating. Mango and Safair. Flights are limited but they are booking mostly full planes. I have read that planes have a very good air filtration system and you are more likely to get an infection in the airport than in the plane.

On my trip from Johannesburg to Cape Town, we found a higher police presence outside the airport directing us where to go and double-checking our papers. The drop n go was closed and the level 2 parking was being used as the entry point. Only passengers are allowed into the airport building. Temperature was checked and hands sanitised at the entry point and the Health Screen Form was collected. Also the travel relocation permit had to be shown. Then into the bag drop queue which moved fairly quickly. There was very little movement in the airport. It was surreal to see O.R. Tambo so empty. Not all the eateries were open either. With the little foot traffic, this normally impersonal experience turned very customer friendly, with ground staff regularly asking if I needed assistance or knew where to go. Maybe I just looked a little lost…

Social distancing was easy with every effort made not to touch anything. You held up your ID document and permits for them to look at. Only the boarding pass was printed and exchanged hands. Going through security to the boarding area, you scanned your own boarding pass. They sanitized each tray before you put your carry on things in to be scanned. With limited people and flights it was a swift process and I was through with almost an hour to spare.  I had a sandwich from Coffee & Cream, a small café which is part of Capello and Piece-a-Pizza which are certified halaal. Waiters wore masks and tables were sanitized as you sat but they did not practice strict social distancing with some tables left unoccupied. They allowed you to sit where you liked. Most places I have seen recently keep every alternate table unoccupied. The seats in the airport were marked as such though so every alternate seat was available.

On the flights, it seems only a handful of seats are being left empty. I was lucky to not have someone sitting right next me on both flights but most other rows were full. There is no catering service on the plane but you can take food with you and only remove your mask to eat or drink. Only one set of toilets was available for most of the craft with the front toilets reserved for the crew, assisted passengers and the elderly to ensure adequate social distancing. When we disembarked it was done row by row so you remained seated till it was your row’s turn. This prevented the typical crowding in the aisle of those people that always want to get off the plane before everyone else.

So when can you travel under level 3?

  1. Moving to a new place of residence. 
  2. Caring for an immediate family member. 
  3. A member of parliament performing oversight responsibilities. 
  4. A learner or student travelling to schools or institutions when permitted. 
  5. Attending a funeral. 
  6. Transporting mortal remains. 
  7. Obtaining medical treatment. 
  8. Returning to your place of residence from quarantine or isolation. 
  9. Business Travel
  10. Any other movement permitted under regulation 4.

But there are some logistics involved. Here is what you will need to travel during lockdown level 3 to care for a sick family member or attend a funeral.

  1. Relocation Travel Permit – Form 6.
    You can download your travel permit from the airline you will be travelling on. It can be downloaded before you book your flight. I downloaded mine from www.flysafair.com and ended up booking my ticket with www.flymango.com. It didn’t matter. The basics of the form is the same. This needs to be stamped at the police department.
  2. An Affidavit
    You need an affidavit stating the reason for your visit. This needs to be stamped at the police department.
  3. Letter from Doctor or hospital
    The government website only lists the affidavit. But at the police station I was told I needed a letter from the doctor or hospital stating my mother was ill and I needed to travel to her. This delayed me by a whole day, so please ensure you do this as well. They did not need to stamp this but they did need to see it with the doctors signature.
  4. Death Certificate
    You will need this if you are travelling for a funeral. You will also need Form 4.
  5. Health Screen Questionnaire
    You can download this from the airline website. Does not need to be the one you’re travelling on. It’s an official government form and will be collected from you at the airport.
  • For business travel, companies that have successfully applied to trade during lockdown can write their own permits for employees to travel. Find a template here: https://form.jotform.com/201516181062545. You will still also need the Relocation permit and Health Questionnaire to be stamped at the police department.

The travel permits you will need for the various other reasons for travel can be downloaded from the airline websites here:
https://www.flysafair.co.za/travel-tools/before-your-flight
https://www.flymango.com/en/news-room/permitted-essential-traveller-alert-level-3-restrictions-qas

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