KLM Reels Back South Africa Flights As Virgin Eyes Resumption

Despite being one of the first airlines to resume flights between Europe and South Africa, KLM is now scaling back operations, starting this week. However, South Africa will see flights resume between London and Cape Town starting next week. The reason for the changes? Entry requirements.

KLM South Africa
KLM is cutting its schedule to South Africa, citing difficulties with changing entry requirements. Photo: KLM

KLM cuts

On December 3rd, South African authorities made changes to the country’s entry requirements. Reportedly, the changes affect airline crew, making it difficult for KLM to keep up with the new regulations. The authorities have allowed a week for airlines to make changes, but it has still led to cuts. As a result, KLM released a statement saying,

KLM deeply regrets and apologises for the inconvenience these cancellations may cause. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines remains committed to work within the rules and regulations of South Africa whilst serving the country during the pandemic; contributing to the economic recovery in South Africa and ensuring that health and safety onboard their aircraft is held to the highest standard.”

KLM consistently operated repatriation flights to South Africa during the pandemic and was one of the first airlines to resume flights after borders reopened. But the changing requirements has meant that while flights are still possible, they are difficult to operate.

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Virgin Atlantic resumes flights

However, recent entry requirement changes have been positive for other airlines—specifically, Virgin Atlantic. Virgin will resume its seasonal flights between London and Cape Town later this month from December 21st. The airline suspended flights because South Africa’s “high-risk” policy meant to travel from the UK to South Africa was prohibited. But South Africa will now allow British Nationals into the country if they present a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival.

Virgin Atlantic 787
Despite the changing requirements, Virgin Atlantic will resume flights between London and Cape Town. Photo: Getty Images

Additionally, the UK has changed its entry requirements. The UK reduced its mandatory 14-day quarantine to just five days, provided travelers take a test after five days. This means more demand for travel between the two countries. Virgin Atlantic will resume operations flying three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The airline will also increase the frequency of flights to Johannesburg from twice weekly to three times on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

South Africa’s borders

Initially, the South African Government announced that its borders would stay closed to international visitors until 2021. However, economic pressures and a lack of tourism has forced the country to open sooner than planned. According to the government’s website, tourism accounts for almost 3% of the country’s economic income in 2018, with a further potential economic impact of up to 8%. It’s no surprise the government wants to encourage visitors.

But it hasn’t been a smooth transition. Some airlines canceled flights shortly after the borders reopened due to confusion regarding entry visas and testing procedures.

emirates and airlink sign agreement
Several airlines, including Emirates, faced issues with South Africa’s border requirements. Photo: Getty Images

To start with, the borders only opened to some countries which were deemed low-risk. This meant the US still couldn’t fly to South Africa. Then, the country opened all borders to everyone but on the condition that travelers provide a negative test taken within 72 hours of arrival. This is where the confusion occurred with Emirates canceling a flight to Durban.

The requirements seem to have straightened out in the last month or so. But the new entry requirements for crew members have caused issues for KLM and therefore could cause issues for other airlines too. However, in general, things seem to be looking up for South Africa, with its new airline Lift officially in the air and more and more flights resuming; hopefully, KLM will resolve its issue soon.

At the time of publication, KLM had not responded to a request for comment.