South African Airways Halts International Operations

In response to more stringent travel restrictions, South African Airways (SAA) has called a halt to its international operation on account of COVID-19. The airline has said that this action is part of its duty to prevent further transmission of the virus. International flight suspensions have also had a knock-on effect for SAA’s regional schedule.

SAA takeoff
A new travel ban has forced SAA to shut down its international operation. Photo: Getty Images

International routes will cease

South African Airways yesterday announced that its international routes will stop with immediate effect until the provisional date of 31st May 2020. Despite feeling positive effects from the coronavirus earlier this week, SAA has now said that tougher entry restrictions have made most routes unfeasible.

SAA A319
SAA had been optimistic but that was before the new travel regulation. Photo: Bob Adams via Flickr

On 19th March the president of South Africa declared a national State of Disaster which will, if it has not already, bring tourism in the country to a standstill. This new regulation prevents travelers from high-risk countries entering South Africa. Unfortunately for the flag carrier, this decision creates quite a conundrum.

In a statement released on 20th March, the airline said:

“Following the declaration of the State of Disaster after the outbreak of COVID-19 in South Africa, the government announced a travel ban and issued regulations, which introduced certain measures aimed at combatting the spread or transmission of the virus…SAA operates in three markets that form part of countries listed in the travel ban as high-risk areas. These are the United States (Washington DC and New York, JFK), the United Kingdom (London, Heathrow) and Germany (Frankfurt and Munich). In addition, SAA operates flights to Australia (Perth) and Brazil (São Paulo) which have not been declared high-risk. All of which are now canceled.”

Recognizing responsibility

Whilst the news will almost certainly come as a blow for SAA, the airline has responded with confidence in its decision. Rather than pushing ahead with its remaining operation to make the most of what profit is left, the airline is considering its staff. The CEO of South African Airways said on Friday in the statement:

“It is all our responsibility[…]to curb further transmission of the virus. In addition, the increasing risks to our crew of contracting the virus including the possibility of being trapped in foreign destinations as a consequence of increasing travel bans cannot be ignored.”

It appears that what had once seemed like an opportunity for the airline has now turned into undeniable turmoil. That’s because it’s not just international operations affected.

Regional routes take a hit

Unfortunately for South African Airways, its entire operation has been affected by the new travel updates from the government. Whilst it lamented the loss of its international routes, SAA’s domestic routes did not escape unscathed.

SAA A320
SAA will continue just one domestic route. Photo: Bob Adams via Flickr

In a separate statement, SAA said that it would make cuts to regional routes to all destinations in Ghana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Nigeria, and Uganda. All of these route cancelations came into effect yesterday and will remain until 31st May 2020.

South African Airways says that this decision was made in direct correlation with reduced international capacity.

So what does this mean for South African Airways now? Well, for the airline these cuts represent a significant network reduction. SAA only sees value in running a domestic route between Johannesburg and Cape Town. However, there is no indication of how long this will be in place. If SAA sees a decline in demand for this route it could be at risk of completely suspending its operation.

Unfortunately, South African Airways has lost a lot of what it had going for it. However, there are very few airlines that are faring much better in the current climate.