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Lengthy airport queues to cause festive season havoc

Lengthy queues at OR Tambo Airport as a result of the new immigration regulations are expected to cause major havoc during the upcoming December holidays.

The Board of Airline Representatives South Africa (BARSA) has called for urgent intervention and the immediate suspension of biometrics for the duration of the December holidays as the best way forward.

International passengers arriving in South Africa at OR Tambo International Airport now need to submit biometric data as part of new immigration regulations to improve security. However, a shortage in trained immigration officials capable of capturing biometrics is leading to very lengthy delays for both South African and international travellers, even causing them to miss connections

Says June Crawford, BARSA CEO: “The decision by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) not to employ additional immigration staff due to budget constraints will need to be re-assessed before December.

“The DHA has taken the decision to revert to a 12-hour, four-group systems because they can no longer afford transport for their officials.”

June explains that BARSA continues to seek ways through various stakeholders to find a solution to this ongoing problem. “The tourism industry is under duress during the busiest time of the year. In our view, the suspension of biometrics until after the peak season would be a short-term solution allowing for all parties to discuss the best way forward.”

Airlines have also been heavily impacted by the delays at OR Tambo. “In a bid to continue offering high customer service levels, several airlines have offered to pay for their passengers’ overnight accommodation when they’ve missed their connection despite it not being part of their obligations.”

What we are seeing, says June, is that international airlines are arriving in Johannesburg on time, but as a result of the long two- to three-hour queues, passengers are missing their connections and are requesting hotel accommodation from the airline. “From a domestic airline perspective, the fact that passengers are missing their onward connections means the flights depart with empty seats. All these costs are currently being borne by the airlines.”

Airport bottlenecks have also had a detrimental effect on the handling of passengers’ baggage. The flights arrive, bags are placed on the belts and need to be taken off after an hour to make space for the next arriving flight.  “This not only adds costs for the airlines but they also see their service levels deteriorate.”

BARSA, as well as the Tourism Business Council of South Africa and Airports Company of South Africa, are actively engaging with the DHA to find a constructive way forward and resolve the situation before the December holiday crowds peak.