Etihad Airways won’t return to South Africa until the end of March 2021 at the earliest even though the country has just reopened to international tourists from around the world including the United States. And there are concerns Etihad Airways may have pulled out of the South African market for good as the COVID-19 pandemic forces the Abu Dhabi-based airline to completely reassess its route network and shrink to what it describes as “mid-sized” carrier status.
Despite imposing one of the toughest Coronavirus lockdowns in the world during the first wave of the pandemic, South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa made the surprise announcement last Wednesday that the country was reopening to tourists with immediate effect.
With its economy, heavily reliant on tourism, in tatters, South Africa will attempt to control the importation of the virus through the use of “rapid tests and strict monitoring” Ramaphosa said in a televised broadcast last week. Visitors will simply need to present a negative COVID-19 test certificate dated within 72-hours of travel.
But the embattled Etihad Airways won’t be joining other airlines in resuming services to Johannesburg. Having flown between Abu Dhabi and South Africa’s commercial capital for 11 years, Etihad suspended services in late March when the UAE’s emergency management agency shut down the country and grounded flights.
Even as Etihad restarted services to around 55 destinations, Johannesburg remained off its route network.
“Due to the continued impact of COVID-19 on global travel, a number of Etihad routes to and from Abu Dhabi remain suspended throughout the winter 2020/2021 season,” a spokesperson for the airline explained.
Head of corporate communication Michael Campbell said an “ongoing review of network performance” had driven the decision to withdraw from the South African market until March 28, 2021, at the earliest. “The decision to suspend the route is a commercial one, and a direct consequence of the impact of COVID-19 on global travel and tourism demand,” Campbell continued.
Locally employed Etihad Airways staff, however, claim the airline has permanently shut its office in the city and terminated all of its staff in the country. In the last week, Etihad also disposed of several highly-paid senior executives and hundreds more cabin crew and pilots were told they would be made redundant.
Last week, Etihad Airways chief executive Tony Douglas said the airline was taking “decisive action to adjust our business and position ourselves proudly as a mid-sized carrier”. Etihad is likely to be much a smaller airline in the years ahead with a much-deminished route network.
Despite withdrawing from the South African market, however, Etihad has announced plans to start a new route from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv beginning March 28, 2021. On Monday, the airline said flight times would allow for convenient onward connections to China, India, Thailand and Australia.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently used by some of the biggest names in journalism.