Airlines breathed a sigh of relief as Home Affairs announced in the media that it had granted a “grace period” for the new immigration regulations. But a crippling lack of communication from the DHA to the trade has left the airline industry unprepared on how to deal with the new regulations.
June Crawford, CEO of the Board of Airline Representatives South Africa (Barsa), says when the DHA goes ahead with the implementation of the new regulations, airlines will be obliged to ensure that passengers are in possession of the necessary documentation. “This could result in passengers being denied boarding, as there is a general rule that if passengers are refused entry into a country and need repatriation the cost is borne by the airline.”
The lack of proper consultation and collaboration with the industry is also the reason Barsa requested a 12-month delay to the policy implementation. The association met with the Department of Home Affairs on June 3 to present its request, but has had no official confirmation as to whether its proposal has been accepted.
Airlines are at a loss as to how to communicate the new regulations to their passengers and how to adjust their cancellation policies to assist stranded passengers. Most airlines contacted by Tourism Update declined to comment, saying they were in ongoing discussions with their head offices on how to address the situation.
Michi Messner, Qantas regional manager for Africa, told Tourism Update: “At no stage did the Department of Home Affairs engage with Qantas to provide a framework for the implementation of the new policy.” She added that the airline was currently in the process of preparing a strategy to communicate the new regulation to all customers and travel agents.
Simon Newton-Smith, Virgin Atlantic’s Head of Middle East and Africa and Chairman of Barsa, says it was unlikely the DHA had been aware of the repercussions for the tourism industry when they announced the new regulations. “The DHA is not going out of its way to cripple the industry.” He added that the new regulations were based on admirable principles to counter child trafficking but, as they stand, they present major pitfalls that could have been avoided if the industry had been consulted. Simon said that, although a solution had not been formulated as yet, Virgin Atlantic would be as proactive as possible to assist its passengers.
The language in which the birth certificate is issued is another cause for concern. Lenél Vining, Air Austral manager for South Africa, says, as it stands, birth certificates could be presented in any language. It would be impossible for immigration officers to verify the authenticity of a birth certificate in a language that is unfamiliar to them.
Lufthansa and SWISS updated their cancellation policies to assist affected passengers. The airlines said in a statement: “All family tickets issued on/before June 10 that have been affected by the new South African Home Affairs ruling regarding the new regulation for parents to carry an unabridged birth certificate for their child/children, please note that Lufthansa and Swiss International Air Lines will allow one free date change for such affected family tickets or a full refund if they wish to cancel their bookings.”
On the other hand, Mango’s spokesperson, Hein Kaiser, told Tourism Update that this was a “legal instrument and travellers had been notified in time along with a period of grace”.
“Airlines are not liable for compensation in terms of external regulations whereby the responsibility for valid travel documentation lies with the individual,” he said. For individuals who are unable to obtain the documentation in time, Hein said Mango would manage and assist each individual instance.
SAA did not manage to respond to questions from Tourism Update at time of publication. Spokesperson for SAA, Tlali Tlali, told Tourism Update this was a complex matter that needed to be addressed at the highest level in the company.