A very clean takeoff: airports back in action, but not taking ...

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A very clean takeoff: airports back in action, but not taking any chances

Acsa says it’s doing its best to make travellers feel at ease, with more security and monitors to answer questions

Journalist
​Cape Town International Airport opens for business on Monday as SA eases its restrictions during level 3 of lockdown.
covid operation ​Cape Town International Airport opens for business on Monday as SA eases its restrictions during level 3 of lockdown.
Image: Esa Alexander

Up to 28,000 passengers go through the Cape Town International Airport on a normal day.

But on Monday the huge facility’s parking lot and terminals were eerily deserted. The smallest sign of normalcy was a group of passengers heading to London on a British Airways “repatriation” flight.

Airports Company SA (Acsa) spokesperson Deidre Davids said it was the first international flight under level 3 lockdown restrictions.

“Under level 3 there are no international flights. Only repatriation flights are allowed,” she said.

The restrictions on travel by government are intended to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Acsa spokesperson Deidre Davids checks on a British Airways plane at Cape Town International Airport.
ON TRACK Acsa spokesperson Deidre Davids checks on a British Airways plane at Cape Town International Airport.
Image: Esa Alexander

Davids said under normal circumstances 235 flights take off and land at the airport daily. She said Acsa had worked around the clock to ensure passengers’ safety.

“When you are travelling, the single highest-touch point is the security point and we want to limit that contact,” she said.

“We are encouraging people to put small items in their hand luggage so the only thing we put on the table is the laptop. If you go through the security point and the detectors go off you have to walk back and figure out what triggered them. At this stage, people need assurance and we’ve gone out of our way to put a host of measures in place to give the travelling public the assurance that it’s safe to use our airports. That is why we have Covid-19 monitors to answer questions and we have signage everywhere.”

Port health officials take a passenger's temperature before she enters Cape Town International Airport.
SAFETY FIRST Port health officials take a passenger's temperature before she enters Cape Town International Airport.
Image: Esa Alexander

Security has been scaled up at the airport. Port health officers ensured social distancing was adhered to, took passengers temperatures and offered them sanitiser. In places where one would ordinarily find tourism flyers there were bottles of sanitiser.

“The last flight ahead of the lockdown was a British Airways flight. It left just before midnight,” said Davids. “We have had a number of repatriation flights to date, but this is the first one today and the airport is open.”

It seems Acsa has not only allowed pilots to start flight engines, it is also set to ignite economic ones — a limited number of retail stores are set to open soon.

Miriam Butcher was delighted to be able to travel to her family in London after enduring lockdown in SA.
Happy chirpy Miriam Butcher was delighted to be able to travel to her family in London after enduring lockdown in SA.
Image: Esa Alexander

Among those dashing to catch the London-bound plane was 72-year-old Miriam Butcher.

“I am happy chirpy here and happy chirpy there,” said Butcher. “I have been unable to travel for three months. Funny enough, we should have left last week. We just have to live with whatever happens in life, don’t we? Life has all sorts of curve balls. I have family in London, I have family here and in the United States, the world is global village.”

Helen Jones and her father, Vernon, on their way to catch the London-bound flight on Monday.
Free at last Helen Jones and her father, Vernon, on their way to catch the London-bound flight on Monday.
Image: Esa Alexander

Helen Jones and her wheelchair-bound father, Vernon, 84, headed to Wales. Jones said her father had been stuck in SA since January.

“He came here for a holiday and lived with me for two months. I live here,” said Jones. “We were supposed to go at the end of March, but we went into lockdown.

“I am normally at the airport every month. I travel a lot with work. It’s a strange thing that it’s so quiet, but I must say this (trip) was so well organised. The British consulate has been fantastic. It is quite scary, but it is probably the safest time to fly in terms of catching the virus because everything is so clean,” said Jones.