Objective.

Faced with the COVID-19 crisis, border closures and flight cessation meant that many South Africans visiting Australia and New Zealand were stranded without a means to repatriate.

The South African government department DIRCO, which included the South African High Commission in Canberra, and South African Airways was tasked with repatriating as many of these travellers as soon as possible.

 

Action.

It was agreed that South African Airways would operate charter flights between Australia and South Africa. The flights would operate to/from Sydney, Brisbane and Perth to/from Johannesburg.

The charter flights were sold as commercial flights, and every passenger was to pay a set ticket price/taxes, although it was also subsidised by the respective governments to keep the cost at an affordable price.

As this flight did not sit within the normal GDS / Yield Management systems, the process was completely manual and included:

-Vetting approval for each customer through DIRCO

-Managing the flight loads by registration where demand overwhelmed supply

-Accepting payment by bank transfer only, and reconciling all proofs of payment and bank receipts

-Dealing with all customers individually with a small team of staff

-Assisting airport team with the arrivals/departures operations of each charter flight

-Coordinating ticket and relevant documentation to all customers

Challenges.

In addition to the operational challenges, due to the absence of normal reservations procedures, other environmental challenges existed including:

-High levels of anxiety amongst travellers

-Short booking windows of 7 – 10 days between registration opening and flight departure

-Added complexities of COVID19 safeguards, procedures and restrictions

-Sydney flight delay of 2 nights due to aircraft technical issue and the accommodation requirements for all 240 passengers including visa requirements and quarantine. Plus the fact that this delay was only announced once all passengers were airside and boarding had commenced.

-Co-ordination with other airlines for NZ originating passengers to ensure additional availability for their connecting flights from Auckland

Facilitation of through check-in of pax/ baggage by other airlines as charter flights sit outside normal interline arrangements