Travel to South Africa during Covid

There is a lot of uncertainty about travel at the moment. The rules change on a regular basis and are not always as clear as they could be.

I travelled from Frankfurt, Germany to Johannesburg, South Africa on 15.12.2020 with a direct flight from Lufthansa. To read more about the PCR Test I did hop over to this page.

The rules on the day of travel:

  • International travel to South Africa is allowed
  • You need a negative PCR Test to travel to South Africa. You can also read more here

After we got our test results, we checked in online for our trip. You can print out your boarding pass of get in on the Lufthansa app. No questions about the PCR test were asked, you were also not informed about the Health Questionnaire that you need to fill in.

Arriving at Frankfurt airport, we could only drop off our bags. There were no Economy check in shelters open. If you have not checked in yet, you could do so at one of the machines. Help was readily available. After dropping off our bags we went through security. The queues were not too long but we arrived a bit early to allow for extra security checks. At the airport itself there were not enough health checks, it is fairly easy to check for high temperatures, and I hope the implement it. There were sanitising stations available where you could sanitise your hands.

Arriving at our gate, we could sit in the waiting area, although there are not enough seating available. Some seats are blocked off to allow for social distancing. There were constant announcements that people should wear a face mask covering your mouth and nose, but this was unfortunately not controlled. There were a lot of people ignoring the rules and putting themselves and others at risk. I did take this up with the floor personnel and was just told it gets controlled.

At first it seemed not too over crowded, but they announced that the PCR Tests must be controlled and everyone formed a line. It then became apparent that this flight was fully booked. We flew with a Boeing 787-8, which has 276 Economy seats. You can see the seat map on Seatguru.

I felt very uncomfortable with the amount of people and lack of mask and distancing control. The airline announced that they had upgrades available, and I decided to take it. The price for the upgrade costed around the same as what I paid for my economy ticket, but I think it will be influenced by demand. The atmosphere in Business class was very relaxed and people could keep their distance. The food was excellent. Just one tip if you do fly business class, do not recline to completely flat, it is not very comfortable, it is not comparable for instance with an Emirates flat bed.

During the flight we were given the Health questionnaire forms to fill in. We already completed ours online and printed it out. You do get a code to present when you complete it digitally but I think they were not prepared for that yet so take a printed copy or complete the forms during the flight.

Arriving at O.R Tambo, we de-planed row by row. When you get to Passport control you are diverted to a queue where they check your PCR test and take your Health Questionnaire form. Have your passport ready as well. Make sure you are in the correct queue, there is one for International passport holders and one for SA passport holders, it looks like one row but it is not. After they check your documents, you then move onto passport control where your temperature is monitored.

If you have a negative PCR Test, your questionnaire and passport ready when you arrive, the process is extremely smooth and almost normal. Tip, if you are at the end of the queue where they check your PCR Test, it is going to take a while before you can collect your luggage, so if you are in a hurry, try to walk fast after leaving the plane.

Flying during the Covid-19 pandemic

View from above

Many people are feeling very excited to travel again. Summer holidays are calling and most of us feel the need to break away from our daily routine. There are also those who feel a bit more anxious about travelling and would rather stay home. This too is understandable. The first flight I took post lockdown was definitely nerve wrecking. Hopefully my shared experiences will help you make informed choices about your holiday plans.

I booked a flight on a low cost carrier from Stuttgart to Hamburg. This is a relatively short flight. The flight’s departure time was moved numerous times. I found this very inconvenient, although rebooking was made very accessible.

The flight

I decided to book a business class ticket. The aeroplane configuration was 3 seats in a row and in business class there is a seat open between you and your fellow passenger. I know some carriers in the US leave the middle seat open in economy class but this was not the case with the Eurowings. Unfortunately the business class lounges were all closed so no perks there!
I checked in online, and dropped my luggage at the counter. The agent avoided as much contact as possible. I used the Eurowings app to check in and to display my boarding pass.
The airport was basically empty and only one duty free shop was open. This is slowly changing and as more flights are taking off, the more shops will open. Do not bargain on buying food or drinks at the airport. There were some vending machines for bottled water and soft drinks.
Security was very slow. You have to take off anything that might set off the sensors. No pat-downs are allowed, so if you set off any sensors its back in the row. Take note of this as it can waste a lot of time to go through the screening again.
Boarding was pretty fast and passengers were asked to check in their hand luggage as the flight was fully booked and there were limited over-head storage. Yes the flight was fully booked! There were not one seat open. You need to scan your own boarding pass at the electronic gates, so make sure your phone is charged or you have a good print out.
I had to wear a mask from the moment I entered the airport. You are only allowed to remove your mask when eating or drinking. My advice is to wear single use masks as they are more breathable than cloth masks.
Drinks and snacks were sold on the flight.
I did not use the toilet facilities as it was a short flight and it is something I would rather avoid. Take sanitising wipes with just in case and make sure you clean the door handle and everything else you may touch. Sanitise your hands afterwards.

Empty airport (Hamburg)

The things we worry about:

Air quality.
According to IATA, the air is very safe and clean “
In fact, these European Aviation Safety Agency studies  showed that “the cabin/cockpit air quality is similar or better than what is observed in normal indoor environments” such as offices, schools and home dwellings.
Modern aircraft have high efficiency air filters similar to those used  in hospital operating rooms. They capture more than 99.9% of the airborne microbes in the filtered air.”

Social distancing
This is just not possible. You can keep away from other passengers at the airport, maybe during boarding but not on the aeroplane.

I would say this is your own responsibility. Keep sanitising wipes or gel (preferably alcohol based) with you and use them often. Wear your mask and do not touch your face until you can wash your hands as prescribed by the WHO

When not to travel
Do not travel when you are infected with Covid-19 or when you are feeling unwell. Also avoid travelling when you are in the high risk group.