There are quite some questions around whether you can fly to from and to South Africa, which airlines are still doing their routes and what the quarantine situations are when you arrive in South Africa, or when you fly from South Africa to a different country.
Well,. travel to approximately 120 countries is either completely prohibited or strictly limited to emergency exemptions in line with the global Covid-19 pandemic. So the options on where you can fly to is not that much since we face 120 major restrictions and 97 moderate restrictions, this includes mandatory testing and quarantine protocols. Only nine countries are listed as having “low restrictions” for travellers from South Africa.
While some countries are easing border closures, travellers from South Africa still face fierce sanctions.
Why are we so restricted among other countries you might ask, well since they discovered the 501Y.V2 (new Covid strand in South Africa) they added more restrictions in an attempt to halt the variant’s spread around the world. Therefore travel bans expanded to other countries and have been consistently extending.
Despite the decline in our infection rate, and the vaccine rollout underway, international travel – to key countries like North America, Europe and Asia still remain largely off-limit.
To give you an example of how negative this has impacted South Africa – before the pandemic and the new Covid-strand, we had almost 30,000 unique international routes between airports, and we now only have about 12,000. Before, the average route was served by about 43 flights per month. Now it’s around 20 flights per month, not even daily.
The latest countries to restrict travel for South Africans are the Netherlands and Ireland.
However, most international airlines have indicated tentative return dates but point out that these timelines are intrinsically tied to their respective countries’ government-ordered travel restrictions for visitors from South Africa. The plans are more best-case-scenario than any guarantee.
Below is a list of when some of the most important international airlines intend to resume passenger flights to and from South Africa, with South Africans aboard.
- Singapore Airlines – Operational (but only for South African travellers in transit)
The travel ban that Singapore imposed on travellers from South Africa amid the emergence of the 501Y.V2 variant at the start of 2021, has been lightened.
Most travellers who have visited South Africa within the last 14 days will be prohibited from entering the country – unless they’ve obtained specific entry approval from the ministry of health. However, Singapore’s Changi Airport will accommodate passengers-in-transit.
Singapore Airlines now transports South African travellers to countries in Asia and the South-West Pacific region.
Returning residents – or visitors cleared for “critical and essential official travel”— will now be subjected to a mandatory 21 days of quarantine. This Stay Home Notice (SHN) is split between a dedicated government-run facility (14 days) and the traveller’s residence (7 days), during which follow-up PCR tests will be conducted.
Singapore Airlines operates five weekly flights between Johannesburg and Changi Airport.
- El Al Airlines (Israel) – flights from 6 May with entry for vaccinated tourists from 23 May
Israel’s flag carrier, El Al Airlines, will resume flights to and from South Africa on 6 May 2021. The airline’s schedule will be limited to just one flight per week. Flights from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport to Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International will operate on Thursday, while outbound flights from South Africa to Israel will depart on Saturdays.
Stringent border restrictions still apply and only returning residents and nationals will be allowed to enter Israel. Any foreigners wishing to enter the country will need to apply for a special exemption via the Israeli Embassy or Office of the Population Authority.
But Israel’s extended border closure, which has prohibited South African travellers from entering is expected to ease on 23 May.
Israel says it will reopen its borders to vaccinated tourists. The first phase of the reopening will allow for vaccinated tourists to enter Israel. These groups will be determined by a quota set by the Israeli government. Vaccinated tourists will still, however, need to undergo PCR testing both before departure and after arrival in Israel. Travellers will need to be in possession of a recognised vaccination certificate to eliminate the need for a serological examination.
- Emirates – extended to 30 May 2021 (for South African passengers)
The airline will continue to operate limited commercial passenger flights into, but not out of, South Africa.
Daily passenger flights to Johannesburg will operate as EK763, however outbound passenger services on EK 764 remain suspended. Customers who have been to or connected through South Africa in the last 14 days will not be permitted on any Emirates flights bound for Dubai.
- KLM – 1 May 2021 (for South African passengers)
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines continues to operate limited passenger flights to and from South Africa but is only carrying Dutch Nationals and EU Residents as outbound passengers. They are currently operating a daily flight from Johannesburg to Amsterdam, and three flights per week from Cape Town to Amsterdam,
KLM has maintained this schedule to South Africa since the international borders were reopened in October 2020. The current Air France schedule between Johannesburg and Paris has increased from three to five flights per week with effect 29 March 2021.
South African travellers are currently banned from entering The Netherlands, with its Ministry of Foreign affairs expected to review border restrictions on 1 May.
- British Airways – extended to 17 May 2021
This flight ban has since been extended several times, with the airline proposing the earliest return date of 17 May 2021.
They have not been and are not currently operating passenger flights to or from South Africa due to current restrictions.
- Virgin Atlantic – early June 2021
Plans to resume flights to South Africa are aiming for early June, dependent on travel restrictions allowing.
- Cathay Pacific – 30 June 2021
The Hong King airline suspended travel to South Africa in March 2020 and intended to restart its flights to Johannesburg a year later. This proposed resumption date was recently extended to 30 June 2021.
- Qantas – end of October 2021
Australia’s flag carrier, Qantas, continues to limit its international operations.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has spoken publicly about the company’s expectations that international travel will start again at the end of October 2021, including to South Africa.
- Delta Airlines – “middle of 2021”
Prior to the pandemic, the American Delta Airlines offered non-stop flights between Atlanta in the United States and Johannesburg. The airline suspended this flight on 26 March 2020.
They currently don’t have a firm date to restart their Johannesburg flight or launch their Cape Town service and they continue to evaluate the market situation given the Covid-19 pandemic. They are hoping to restart their services by the middle of the year but that’s to be confirmed.
- Etihad Airways – no return date set
International airlines already carrying passengers from South Africa
There are several international airlines currently flying to and from South Africa and accommodating passengers beyond only residents or citizens of their respective base countries.
However, most of these airlines are based in Africa, and not all offer a lot of onward connections.
- Ethiopian Airlines has held a firm position in South Africa’s airspace, offering consistent flights since borders opened in October.
- Air Botswana, Air Mozambique, EgyptAir, Zimbabwe’s Fastjet, Kenya Airways, Proflight Zambia are operating flights to and from South Africa with varying degrees of consistency.
- Angola’s TAAG recently reinstated its South African service.
- Local airline, Airlink, has intensified its flight frequency to several destinations in Africa.
- Qatar Airways has managed to remain as the strongest – and only – contender for passage between South Africa and the Middle East.
- Turkish Airways restarted flights to and from South Africa in October, and while Turkey still maintains fierce restrictions on South African travellers, Istanbul Airport serves as a key transit hub connecting to more than 200 international destinations.
- Lufthansa – which includes Swiss, Austrian Airlines and Brussels Airlines – recently restarted commercial passenger flights between Frankfurt, Johannesburg and Cape Town after an extended suspension at the beginning of the year.
The best advice we can give you when you are planning on travelling abroad is to contact your airline before you book any tickets. First thing would be to find out whether they are still flying to your destination country and what the Covid-regulations are.
We wish you all the best and safe travels!
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By Angelique Wernich