South Africa

Better late than never

SAA eventually comes to the rescue of the stranded South Africans it left behind at Frankfurt airport on Saturday

SAA eventually comes to the rescue of the stranded South Africans it left behind at Frankfurt airport on Saturday
An SAA plane. (Photo: Daily Maverick)

The 45 stranded South Africans bumped off the last SAA repatriation flight from Europe on Saturday flew from Frankfurt to Amsterdam on Monday where they will catch a KLM flight to Cape Town on Tuesday.

They were full of praise for the SAA ground and operational staff at Frankfurt airport who they said stayed up until midnight on Sunday to make sure they got onto the two flights to take them home.

“SAA took care of everybody and everything,” said oil and gas technician Massimo Biancheri who has been stranded in Europe since late January by the worldwide coronavirus travel restrictions.

On Sunday, he had been critical of SAA for their disorganisation of the Frankfurt-Johannesburg repatriation flight on Saturday from which he and some 45 other passengers were bumped.

They were then also left behind when SAA organised a special KLM flight to Amsterdam to catch a KLM repatriation flight to Johannesburg on Saturday.

Biancheri and other passengers claimed that this was the result of a combination of factors, including overbooking by SAA, poor communication by SAA to bumped passengers about the replacement KLM flight as well as the failure of an emergency evacuation slide on one of the SAA aircraft’s doors.

This meant that SAA had had to empty 40 seats near the faulty door to comply with safety regulations.

But SAA itself blamed only the door for the bumping of the passengers from its flight and said it had informed all passengers for which it had details about the backup KLM flight.

It also said it had originally taken on board all passengers on the list which it had been given by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) about who was properly booked for the flight and paid for. Dirco is responsible for organising repatriation flights and vetting passengers for them.

However, Biancheri yesterday said that, “SAA staff here has been very helpful and did the impossible to get us home on Tuesday, really a remarkable effort considering the Covid 19 restrictions and the week end.

“Honestly I think they need to be praised for the effort they have voluntarily done to help us.”

On Saturday Biancheri said the SAA staff had told the bumped passengers they would have to pay for their own hotels and transport. But he said on Monday SAA “are taking care of everything. We are now in transit in Amsterdam and everybody has been checked in at the hotel. No problems at all..

“The SAA staff in Frankfurt has been amazing. Very helpful.”

Another passenger said:

“I don’t quite know if SAA deserves high praise but the staff on the ground in Frankfurt have gone above and beyond to really help us. There were people who don’t get overtime and weren’t asked to be there that stayed in the office until midnight last night to make sure that we were all sorted for today.

“So the ground and operational staff that have been here to assist us have been really, really stellar. I think the problems at the moment definitely lie with the bigger groups, Dirco and the organisations that allowed this overbooking to happen in the first place and the communications that went with it.

“But the people here who helped us out definitely do deserve high praise.”

Wouther Vemeulen, Southern Africa general manager of Air France-KLM said the airline had scheduled an extra flight, KL 1764, on Saturday to help SAA get its passengers from Frankfurt to Amsterdam to connect to the KLM flight to Johannesburg.

“This flight (KL1764) had been delayed as long as possible to take all people that showed up at the airport and it departed with a three hours delay.

“Subsequently KLM delayed the flight in Amsterdam to Johannesburg (KL591) to wait for the SAA passengers. In the end, KLM brought 67 South African nationals back to South Africa, arriving 02:30 at night on the KL591. “

It now seems that KLM will be taking over from SAA the primary duty of repatriating stranded South Africans from Europe.

It might also be able to help South Africans in other places get home via Amsterdam  DM

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