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Going nowhere together: Confusion reigns as Qatar Airways suspends SA flights again

The entrance of Cape Town International Airport on 13 December 2021. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp)

The unexplained decision by the airline affects flights from South Africa and four other southern Africa countries, mere days after booking had been reopened. 

Qatar Airways has suspended flights from South Africa and four other African countries, just days after reopening bookings for outbound passenger flights. 

The Doha-based airline continued with flights to South Africa following the identification of Omicron, but passengers weren’t allowed to board Qatar flights in South Africa, and Qatar Airlines flew its planes back to the Middle East without passengers.

On Friday, Qatar Airlines announced that it would be resuming outbound passenger flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town. However, on Sunday its website noted that it would no longer be accepting passengers travelling from five southern African countries. 

The U-turn came as Bloomberg and UK media such as the Daily Mail and The Telegraph reported that the controversial UK Red List could be scrapped this week and replaced with Covid-19 testing for fully vaccinated travellers, just weeks after it was implemented.  Bloomberg reported that the UK could announce the removal of all 11 countries from its Red List as soon as Tuesday, ending mandatory hotel quarantine for travellers

“Qatar Airways will no longer be accepting passengers travelling from five southern African countries in our global network. However, we will continue to accept passengers for travel into these countries in-line with current restrictions,” the airline said. 

Passengers who are booked on Qatar Airways flights from Luanda, Angola; Maputo, Mozambique; Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, South Africa; Lusaka, Zambia; and Harare, Zimbabwe “will not be accepted for travel until further notice,” it said. 

The last Qatar flight to leave Cape Town International Airport was at 12.25pm on Monday, 14 December, as indicated on the airport’s international departures board. 

Boards show local and international flight departures at the Cape Town International Airport on 13 December 2021. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp)

It is still unclear what brought about the sudden change of mind. Qatar Airways had not responded to Daily Maverick’s queries on the reason for the decision by the time of publication. 

While airlines including Airlink, Lufthansa, KLM and Air France appear to be operating with inbound and outbound South African passenger flights, Qatar Airways’ continued flight suspension brings the airline in line with Turkish Airlines and Emirates which have also suspended outbound flights from South Africa, Zola Mazaleni at the Cape Town International Airport information desk told Daily Maverick.

On 30 November, Emirates announced it will operate passenger flights four times a week into Johannesburg, but would “not be carrying outbound passengers from Johannesburg.”

“Until further notice, Emirates has temporarily suspended passenger operations to and from Durban and Cape Town,” said the airline. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa has sharply criticised the travel bans and other “knee-jerk” reactions by various nations to the Omicron variant, calling the decision unscientific and discriminatory. Within hours of identifying the Omicron variant, the UK had restricted travel from South Africa and some of its neighbouring countries, once again adding South Africa to its Red List for travel.

Boards above the Turkish Airlines check-in stations show that flights for this airline are currently closed. 13 December 2021. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp)

The World Health Organization has supported South Africa and has called for an end to travel bans and restrictions imposed by various nations. DM

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  • I have been told that the airline, after cancelling its bookings earlier had undertaken to refund the cost of tickets less the “tax” part. This really does not make sense and appears to me to be farming the taxes illegally for company profit (or is it reduction of loss). Should somebody be organising a class action against the airline and it is not viable for individuals to take any action except perhaps laying a criminal charge. Is Quatar Airways about to pull the same trick?

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