After more than two months of hard lockdown, corporate travellers have been itching to get back to the boardroom. With Level 3 regulations implemented on June 1, a number of businesses were able to resume operations while business travellers could – to some extent – take to the skies again.
“Business travellers will be the first to experience the ‘new normal’ in airports, planes and accommodation,” says Bonnie Smith, General Manager, FCM Travel Solutions. “And, although the travel industry has worked relentlessly to make the travel experience as safe as possible, it can feel daunting to be the first to board a plane in a COVID world.”
Here’s what travellers can expect from their business travel experience under Level 3:
What to expect from airfares?
Covid-19 has dealt a massive blow to the entire aviation industry, with all planes grounded for weeks. As a result, airlines desperately want to recover lost revenue by filling seats. “This doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that airfares will be highly discounted. As with any other business, pricing will depend on supply and demand,” says Smith.
Currently, on FlySafair, a round-trip Johannesburg – Durban will set travellers back on average R2238, a return Lanseria – Durban will cost R1834 while a return Johannesburg – Cape Town will start from R3038 and a return Lanseria – Cape Town starts from R2635. Mango’s flights start at R3329 for a return Johannesburg – Cape Town, and R1949 for a return Johannesburg to Durban.
Which airlines are flying?
CemAir will launch flights between Johannesburg and Cape Town from 05 June and Johannesburg and Durban from the 08 June. The airline will not offer flights during the weekend.
Airlink will resume operations from 08 June with twice daily flights on both the Durban and Cape Town routes. Airlink will have reduced capacity over the weekends.
Low-cost carrier FlySafair will take to the skies again on 15 June. The airline is operating roughly 20% of its flights as compared to pre-Covid-19. There will be twice daily flights between Johannesburg and Durban, and four times a day between Johannesburg and Cape Town during the work week. Weekends will see lower frequencies.
And finally, Mango resumes operations on 15 June as well with two frequencies daily on the routes between Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban on weekdays. There will be reduced frequencies during the weekend.
It remains unclear whether Kulula.com will offer flights under Level 3, as the airline has indicated it will only resume operations from November this year.
Will the middle seat be empty?
There is a lot of debate around the, already dreaded by many, middle seat in planes. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has rejected this policy, saying, “the risk of transmission of Covid-19 from one passenger to another passenger on board is very low.”
Research shows that the risk of transmission is cut significantly due to having seat backs as barriers, the use of HEPA filters onboard (of the same standard as those found in hospital theatres and with the same efficacy of 99.97% in removing viruses), minimising movement around the cabin, and the practice of good hand and surface hygiene. Airlines are therefore permitted to operate at full capacity.
Aviation experts have, however, said it is unlikely flights will operate at full capacity as it will take time for demand to build up. FlySafair has indicated that if the flight is less than 67% booked, the middle seat will remain open. Travellers can also opt to buy an extra seat next to them.
What are some of the safety precautions airlines are taking?
Aircraft will be deep-cleaned every evening using an aircraft-grade, antibacterial and antiviral cleaning solution, according to aviation information obtained by FCM Travel Solutions. Between flights, commonly used areas such as lavatories, tray tables, armrests, seat belts, call buttons and overhead bin handles, are cleaned with a broad-spectrum disinfectant. Afterwards, cabins are treated using sanitising aerosol foggers.
All staff and customers are required to wear masks for the duration of their journey. On FlySafair, all passengers will be provided with sanitised masks before boarding.
There will be no magazines, so FCM encourages customers to download digital copies onto their mobile devices before boarding. No catering will be available onboard to prevent touching of shared surfaces.
All crew will have their temperature taken before duty, and any person who exhibits a temperature over 38°C will be sent home. All customers will also have their temperatures taken before boarding, and any customer with a temperature over 38°C will be denied boarding. The crew are also equipped with digital thermometers to monitor customer temperatures during flight.
What will happen at the airport?
Passengers will find that the airport environment has changed considerably, warns Smith. New procedures and protocols are expected to take time, and passengers should arrive at the airport at least two hours before the scheduled departure. It will be a “passenger only” policy in the terminals buildings.
Many access points have been closed at each airport. It is advised that travellers check either with their FCM consultant or on the Airports Company website for details on which access points and terminal entrance points should be used.
Upon entry to the terminal, all passengers will undergo a temperature screening and must be wearing a mask. They will need to produce a business travel permission letters at the entrance to the airport.
Floor markings for social distancing of 1.5 metres will guide passengers through the airport, at check-in counters, security checkpoints and airport lounges.
For hygiene reasons, baggage wrapping is now compulsory for all check-in luggage.
FCM advises its customers to use mobile or WhatsApp boarding passes. Boarding passes should be scanned by customers without touching the scanner surfaces, and ID documents should be presented to the team, but not handed to anyone.
What you need to know about security
Travellers will be asked to remove any metal and electronic items from their person before entering the security queue. This includes mobile devices, watches, jewellery, wallets, keys and so on. These items must be placed in the tray at the security scanner. This process will minimise the need for security officers to conduct physical pat downs at the checkpoint.
Will boarding the aircraft be different?
Physical distancing rules will apply for queues to board an aircraft. Boarding will be done in a controlled manner with passengers travelling in the rear seats of the aircraft boarding first. Passengers with tickets for Row A, for example, will board last.
Do I need a permit to travel?
It is the responsibility of travellers to ensure they have the necessary permission to travel, before even buying a ticket. Business travellers will need to carry a letter on company letterhead, signed by a manager, as well as a completed employer permit form. These forms are all available on the FCM website. Any traveller who fails to produce the required documents will not be permitted to fly.
Can I hire a car?
Vehicle rental services have been allowed to operate since alert level 4 and will continue to support other level 3 services. This has allowed vehicle rental companies ample time to enhance their health and safety procedures.
Car rental shops are adhering to stringent social distancing and cleaning protocols. All staff will wear masks, and any person entering the premises will undergo temperature screening.
Car rental companies have advises FCM that the cleaning and disinfecting of all vehicles will occur in a methodical and thorough manner. And Europcar has even temporarily replaced their famous mints with a hand sanitizer.
While accommodation remains closed to the public for most purposes, business travellers will now be permitted to book and stay in accommodation for the duration of their work trip.
Joining the trickle of accommodation services, City Lodge Hotel Group, which represents five distinct hotel brands in South Africa, is starting to reopen its hotels in a phased response to business traveller demand. The group said a reputable independent company has conducted Covid-19 risk assessment audits on hotels and the first property to be tested, City Lodge Hotel Bryanston, has achieved a 98% score on the hygiene audit and 100% on the microbiological index. Four of Tsogo Sun’s properties have opened as well as The Capital’s hotels and six Orion hotels.
Hotels will in all likelihood request proof that travellers are on permitted business travel as they have been warned that they can expect visitors from inspectors, tourism minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane warned on the weekend. Some hotels have also indicated that they will not accept cash payments.
“In these uncertain times, it is beneficial for travellers and companies to have a TMC partner backed by people who genuinely care about the wellbeing of your travellers. With their finger on the pulse, FCM consultants are ideally placed to advise you on the best approach to ensure the safety of your travellers, as this is a primary concern that has been expressed by many of our customers” concludes Smith.