SAA cancels flights as coronavirus travel restrictions hit

South African Airways (SAA) says it has scaled down capacity in response to the low demand for air travel, in a statement on Wednesday (18 March).

In the light of the substantial fall in demand for air travel, SAA said it has reviewed its flight schedule and has decided to operate flights only under circumstances where its load factors and other business considerations weigh in favour of scheduling flights.

However, certain flights that have been negatively impacted more than others have been cancelled, it said.

“Notwithstanding the decline in demand, SAA continues to aggressively review its schedule to match capacity with demand to the extent possible. Where feasible, we will consider options that include cancelling and merging flights,” said SAA chief commercial officer, Philip Saunders.

For the period 17 – 31 March 2020, SAA has cancelled a total of 162 flights. Of these, 38 are international and 124 are regional (destinations on the African continent) flights.

The airline said it is continuing to provide a service on the domestic, regional and international networks for those passengers whose travel is essential and cannot be avoided.

For the time being, the airline will continue to operate to and from destinations unaffected by travel restrictions aimed at combatting the spread of the coronavirus, it said.

“Our priority is to assist those travellers wishing to repatriate to their home countries to do so as quickly and efficiently as possible. Naturally, this includes South African citizens abroad wishing to return home,” Saunders said.

“We have updated our Customer Reservation Policy to help our passengers defer their travel plans where possible. To this end, we have offered our customers one free ticket change, in acknowledgement of travel restrictions that are not of our customers’ own making.”

You can find the full list of the flight cancellations here.

SA Express

SA Express said that it will also suspend operations from 18 March 2020 until further notice.

The airline said that this decision will impact both SA Express customers and staff in the following manner:

  • All customers will be accommodated on alternative flights;
  • All non-critical SA Express staff will be placed on compulsory leave during this time.

“The airline will utilise this period to review its current network and streamline operations for improved efficiency,” it said. “SA Express will provide communication on any additional developments in due course.”


The flight cancellations come after president Cyril Ramaphosa announced a number of travel restrictions which take effect from Wednesday.

This includes a travel ban on foreign nationals from high-risk countries such as Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom and China.

No foreign nationals will be allowed from these countries through our ports of entry, which include airports, sea ports and railways.

On Wednesday, the Department of Health reported that the confirmed number of coronavirus cases in South Africa has jumped to 116 cases.

This means that a further 31 cases have been identified, following the overnight announcement that cases reached 85 in the country.

The new cases include cases in Gauteng, KZN, Mpumalanga and the Western Cape, and includes six new cases of internal transmission.

“As part of tracking and tracing, we have collated background information on how these patients were infected. We will provide information to the public, so as to give a sense of how these local transmissions occur,” health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said.

Read: South African coronavirus cases jumps to 116 as a Gautrain exec tests positive

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SAA cancels flights as coronavirus travel restrictions hit