SA Express passengers grounded for 24 hours

South African Express postponed 24 hours of flights on Wednesday. (SA Express/Website)

South African Express postponed 24 hours of flights on Wednesday. (SA Express/Website)

South African Express (SA Express) passengers have been made to wait for 24 hours at the OR Tambo International airport to board their flights to their different destinations.

The airline’s domestic and international flights were grounded on Wednesday, with the airline blaming “operational issues”.

Sean Fawthrop, who was trying to go to Lubumbashi airport in the Democratic Republic of Congo told the Mail & Guardian that he was supposed to be on his flight at 6am on Wednesday, but was instead told to wait because there was a delay.

According to Business Day, the grounding was made by the Airports Company of South Africa (Acsa), to which SA Express owes millions in airport fees.

In a statement, SA Express says after deliberations with ACSA on Wednesday, the airport management company had agreed that the withdrawal of its services be lifted “pursuant on SA Express meeting prescribed conditions.”

These conditions were met on the same day but later ACSA subsequently retracted on the agreements reached hence there is still a delay.

The airline is having financial troubles and it cannot borrow from commercial banks because it has depleted its working capital.

It had asked the finance minister Tito Mboweni for a R200-million government guarantee loan which the minister turned down.

“It’s a big big mess,” said Fawthorp. He said that close to 300 people are waiting for their international and domestic flights.

Fawthrop added that staff does not know what is going on. “They are in the blind, [and] apparently there is a meeting going on behind the scenes.”

“l’ll probably get another hotel voucher tonight and get back here tomorrow for the same story,” he added.

Simon Allison, the M&G’s Africa Editor, said he waited for 22 hours for his flight from Gaborone airport to O.R Tambo International airport.

“There was zero communication with passengers.”

He said that, for most of the day, there was just one staff member assigned to deal with disgruntled passengers from at least four cancelled flights.

He said that there was an announcement that there would be a large plane arriving later that night to take all the passengers to Johannesburg but it never arrived.

“I feel that we were deliberately misled to keep us quiet.”

It is unclear when the matter would be resolved, but the airline has apologised for the inconvenience. In a statement, it said it is working hard, together with its key stakeholders, to ensure a speedy resolution of the challenges that have affected its operations

Tshegofatso Mathe

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