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Air travel: When can South Africans take to the skies again?


South Africans are desperate to return to a semblance of normal life, not only to get the economy back up on its feet again, if that’s even possible, but to also fly to the coop and escape from all the chaos for a while. After being locked down for more than nine weeks, the urge to connect to the world is stronger than ever before, and according to a survey done by Flight Centre, 86% of South Africans are ready for air travel.

Domestic and international travel is currently only allowed for business purposes, family reunions, medical attention, study, or taking up permanent residency, all of which need to be proved by mountains of paperwork. However, hopping in the car for a road trip up the Garden Route or flying off to Mauritius for an idyllic island escape is off the cards, and sadly, there doesn’t seem to be any hope for travel in the nearby future.

There are whispers on the wind of the borders reopening in September, but as history has shown, things can change at the drop of a hat (or on the whim of a minister), so travellers aren’t holding their breath.

However, in a recent panel discussion on Euronews Debates, where participants were debating whether Africa’s tourism sector could recover and once again see travellers from Europe heading south, Tim Cordon, Radisson Hotel Group Area Senior VP for the Middle East and Africa, said he believes that South Africa could have an “okay summer” if they the country gets the pandemic under control and opens borders again.

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CEO of South African Tourism, Sisa Ntshona, said that once the tourism sector was given the all-clear from government, they would focus on opening up in phases, “beginning with business travel domestically, followed domestic leisure, then intra-continental travel and finally, opening up international borders.”

The future of air travel post-COVID

COVID-19 has upended global travel with an estimated 25 million jobs in aviation jobs and over 100 million jobs in the travel and tourism industry, and up to seven years’ worth of industry growth lost. So, when we are eventually allowed to take to the skies, air travel promises to be a very different experience to what we have enjoyed before.

Airlines, travel companies, and the tourism sector now face a herculean challenge to make travellers feel confident and safe enough to fly again, and we will undoubtedly see several unprecedented changes put in place to help the industry to recover and keep people safe.

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The most immediate change will be the move to touchless travel in all aspects of the journey from arrival at the airport to hotel check-in and automation will become the new norm.

Technology for touchless data-entry will play a major role in the way we travel in the future with touchless document scanning, gesture control, and voice commands, along with biometrics for identity verification, which is already in play.

Flyers can expect pared-down services with fewer luxuries. Gone are the days of complimentary amenity kits, noise-cancelling headphones, in-flight magazines, and pyjamas for Business and First-Class flyers, and some airlines are even culling trolley services and meals.

Passengers on certain airlines, such as Qatar Airways, will have to wear masks and face shields, and lawmakers are mandating that airlines fill no more than two-thirds of the passenger cabin to prevent the virus from spreading.

Future travel experiences might be very different from what we are used to, but there is nothing quite like an adventure to somewhere beautiful to re-energise, revitalise, and renew the soul. So, here’s hoping we’ll be able to take to the skies soon.

Also read: Airline passenger market expected to return to normal in 2024

This content has been created as part of our freelancer relief programme. We are supporting journalists and freelance writers impacted by the economic slowdown caused by #lockdownlife.

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