What it is like to fly in a South African plane during the COVID-19 lockdown

South African airline Safair explained to MyBroadband what rules customers will have to follow to curb the spread of COVID-19 when taking a domestic flight.

It said the national lockdown has had a huge impact on its revenue.

“There was an extended period during which we simply had no revenue, but obviously still had significant overheads to cover,” Safair told MyBroadband.

“While our teams have had to make significant sacrifices during this period, it’s great to be back in the air again,” said Safair.

It noted that its operations are still “very thin” as demand for flights is not great, and there are limitations on the reasons for which one may travel.

Despite this, it said its business is slowly improving.

Safair said it has implemented a number of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on its planes.

These are in line with regulations, although it said some of the measures it is taking also go beyond what is required by the government.

Safair provided the following checklist of measures it has taken to prepare its planes for passengers:

  • Temperature checks of all passengers.
  • Hand sanitation on boarding.
  • All passengers and staff to wear face masks throughout the journey.
  • “No touch” policy – all documents and boarding passes are self-scanned.
  • No catering to avoid touching.
  • HEPA air filters are fitted on all aircraft which recycle air every 3 minutes.
  • Cleaning between flights with anti-viral cleaners.
  • Deep cleans at night with anti-viral chemicals and then electrostatic sprayers.
  • Social distancing at airports in queues and other areas.
  • No magazines to avoid contamination surfaces.
  • Small group boarding processes for social distancing purposes.
  • Carefully controlled disembarkation procedures for social distancing purposes.
  • The option to block out the middle seat for social distancing purposes.

Safair also provided more information on some of these measures.

Leaving a middle seat open

Safair said it is the only airline in South Africa that is offering customers the choice to leave the middle seat open between a window and an aisle seat.

While the Ministry of Transport has placed no restrictions that require this, and research has not shown this to be a particularly effective prevention technique.

However, Safair still allows passengers the option to do this as they “may prefer the peace of mind that comes with ensuring that the middle seat is left open anyway”.

This is available at a R750 fee, which both passengers must pay.

HEPA air filters

Safair said the HEPA filters it uses were mentioned by Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula and are highly effective at refreshing cabin air.

This includes the following benefits:

  • The filters can take out 99.995% of airborne microbes
  • They filter out microbes as small as 0.1 microns. (COVID-19 viral particles are 0.125 – 0.14 microns)
  • These are the same filters used in hospital operating theatres.
  • Air is taken in from the vents along the floor and released downwards above passengers, meaning that airflow in vertical rather than across rows of seats.
  • Air is refreshed (completely filtered) every 2-3min.
  • The filters are replaced regularly, but there is no point where the filter’s efficiency in cleaning out particles is reduced, older filters just slow down the refresh rate.

Boarding and disembarking

Safair said that during boarding, passengers are boarded in smaller groups.

These passengers are asked to maintain social distancing during this process.

When passengers disembark, they are all expected to remain seated until their group is called for disembarking.

Aisle seat passengers are the first group who will be allowed to disembark, followed by middle seats, and finally those with window seats.

Families who are travelling together are allowed to disembark together, however.

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What it is like to fly in a South African plane during the COVID-19 lockdown