South Africa Bans Passengers From Eating On Domestic Flights

South Africa has moved back to a Level 1 lockdown after several consecutive weeks of receding numbers of new COVID-19 cases. To combat any new rise in infections as restrictions begin to ease up, the government wants to encourage better adherence to mask-wearing on aircraft. As such, it has now prohibited any form of catering or food consumption onboard domestic flights. However, bottled water will still be permitted.

FlySafair plane over Table Mountain
South Africa has banned all eating on domestic flights as the country moves to Level 1 lockdown. Photo: FlySafair

Encouraging proper in-flight mask-wearing

Combatting antimasking has been a recurring theme for commercial aviation throughout the pandemic. To come to terms with the problem of keeping everyone safe while still providing sustenance or an in-flight snack, airlines have, in some cases, taken to asking those who consider themselves ‘slow eaters’ to please put their masks back on between bites.

Meanwhile, governments have also taken action. On Monday, South Africa joined Thailand in banning all food on domestic flights. While Thailand does not allow any drink except water provided by the crew in exceptional circumstances, the South African government will permit airlines to sell bottled water onboard.

All other catering is prohibited, and passengers are not allowed to bring any food with them on the flight. Previously, airlines were allowed to offer pre-packed meals as long as their production was in line with the established COVID-protocols.

Additionally, domestic flights have to adhere to South African curfew hours. These now span from midnight to 04:00 since the country moved back to a Level 1 alert on Sunday. Those traveling with international flights outside of these hours must be able to provide a valid air ticket upon request.

South Africa airport
International operators may still provide catering in and out of the country. Photo: Getty Images

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests!

‘Just the right thing to do’

The updated regulations are to support better adherence to mask-wearing on board flights. While airlines would surely have welcomed the additional cash flow at this time, at least one carrier is in support of the initiative to further combat the spread of coronavirus.

“Not having catering onboard does steal from the experience for our passengers and it is a revenue stream that we would love during this tough time. However, not offering catering is just the right thing to do at this time, and we stand by the government’s decision for strict regulation,” Kirby Gordon, Chief Marketing Officer at FlySafair, the country’s now largest domestic airline, told media outlet Talk of the Town.

Not wearing a mask on FlySafair could further see passengers liable for the costs associated with any diversion occurring as a result, with sums up to $7,000.

The risk of contracting COVID on a plane is minuscule, studies show – particularly when everyone involved wears their masks properly. Photo: Getty Images

Masks render the risk virtually non-existent

Several studies carried out by airlines, aircraft manufacturers, and government entities have shown that there is very little risk of viral transmission onboard an aircraft. One such study was conducted by the US Department of Defense (DoD) in collaboration with United Airlines in October last year.

The DoD study found that when passengers wore a mask, the risk for transmission was 0,003% and that one would need to fly for 54 continuous hours to be at any risk of infection.

Do you think that South Africa’s new regulations are reasonable or excessive? Tell us in the comment section.