Editor's note: Subsequent to the publication of this article, Travel News was told by Air Austral station manager, Benji Combrink on October 27, that the SACAA had given permission for Air Austral to conduct flights between Reunion and South Africa. The start date and schedule are still unknown.
Ongoing uncertainty about Air Mauritius’s schedule combined with Mauritius’s current immigration restrictions and quarantine requirement (currently valid until November 30) are pushing operators to turn away December air bookings, with some now redirecting enquiries to alternative destinations.
Carla da Silva, Air Mauritius regional manager Southern Africa and Latin America, explained that Mauritius had reopened its borders in a phased approach.
“The long-stay requirement, the three PCR tests and the 14-day quarantine regulations currently in place do not work for our market. We are appealing to the Mauritian government on various levels, via various channels to open up to South Africa on December 1. The current NOTAM is valid until November 30 so we are hopeful that it will be reviewed,” said Carla.
Air Mauritius has cancelled flights from the system until November 30, but flights are still available for sale from December 1.
With SAA and Comair currently out of action, Travel News understands that the only other approved flight route between South Africa and Mauritius is the approximately 20-hour journey via Dubai on Emirates.
And while Air Austral flights via Réunion were under consideration as an alternative by some operators, the airline has not yet received approval to resume flights to either Johannesburg or Mauritius.
Air Austral head of sales and SA station manager, Benjamin Combrink said: “We have not received approval from SACAA/DOT for our operations to Johannesburg as yet. Currently the Mauritian government is also not allowing flights from Réunion into Mauritius, but this could change at any stage. While we understand from Mauritius that the quarantine is unlikely to be dropped for December, until they make a final decision about this and allow us to operate into Mauritius from Réunion we can do nothing. December is around the corner and we have asked our head office for an urgent update, as many agents and operators will need to remove their packages from their platforms if we do not operate.”
Spokesperson for SACAA, Kabelo Ledwaba, told Travel News that the authority was aware of Air Austral’s intention to resume operations to South Africa from December 1.
“The most recent documents were submitted by the operator on October 21. These were specifically meant to detail their COVID-19 readiness procedures. As much of this document was submitted in French we can only review the remainder of the document when a revised document has been sent to us in English. Regardless, on the strength of the English parts of the documentation, their procedures have so far secured the thumbs-up,” said Kabelo.
“It must be noted that, because an operator used to have certain rights pre-COVID-19, it does not mean that they are allowed to fire up their engines and start operating. There are processes that must be followed to secure all the necessary approvals, including those relating to COVID-19 management procedures. Most importantly, there are other very important flight operation requirements that must be met prior to the commencement of operations. These largely pertain to safety in terms of airworthiness of the aircraft and competencies of the crew, especially after long periods of being inactive,” he added.
Ceo of Thompsons Holidays, Joanne Adolphe, said it was too risky at present for Thompsons to accept new air bookings for December with so much uncertainty relating to regulations and air schedules. She said Thompsons Holidays was focusing on selling Seychelles and Zanzibar packages at present as these destinations had both reopened to South Africans.
Beachcomber Tours is currently sending the following recommendation to clients requesting December package booking.
“Our office has provisionally booked a package (land and air) for you, however, we recommend that clients reserve the land portion of their package only while we await clarity from the Mauritian Government regarding their official border reopening date for tourists. Beachcomber Tours offers clients complete peace of mind in that Beachcomber Tours will waive cancellation fees in the event that government rulings prevent clients from travelling as planned. Should a travel ban be instated that prevents clients from travelling, the land arrangement portion will be 100% refundable should the clients not wish to amend dates and prefer to cancel. The refund will, however, exclude any fee or service charges a travel agent may charge. Airlines are not offering this option, however – they only permit amending of air tickets to alternative travel dates. This is why we suggest that only land arrangements are booked for the time being. This flexible land policy applies to new bookings placed as from June 15. T&Cs apply.”
Sales director of Beachcomber, Joanne Visagie, told Travel News that the operator had implemented these guidelines so that it could refund clients or carry the credit over to another travel date if need be.
Md of World Leisure Holidays, Ramesh Jeenarain, said it was still accepting package bookings for travel to Mauritius in December.
“While we aren’t turning away any bookings, we are having very open and candid discussions with clients that are interested in booking packages to Mauritius in December. Our sales and marketing focus is primarily on Zanzibar though, due to its easy accessibility and the fantastic specials on offer at present,” said product manager of Holiday Packages by AfricaStay, Jacqui Carr.