Qatar Airways suddenly pulled flights from South Africa and four other African nations on Sunday just days after reopening bookings following a brief stop due to Omicron variant fears.
The Doha-based airline has continued flying to South Africa throughout the Omicron outbreak but passengers aren’t allowed to board in South Africa and Qatar Airways flies its planes back to the Middle East empty.
On Friday, South Africa’s tourism minister praised Qatar Airways for announcing plans to restart passenger flights from Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg. Just two days, however, and Qatar Airways had reversed those plans and closed bookings again.
In a Tweet, Qatar Airways thanked tourism minister Lindiwe Sisulu, saying the airline was excited to restart outbound flights with as many as 21 weekly flights.
But in a statement posted to its website, Qatar Airways said it would “continue to review the situation on a daily basis”. Passengers flights remain banned from South Africa, as well as Angola, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe until further notice.
Qatar Airways did not say why it changed its mind at the last minute. The continued suspension brings Qatar Airways in line with competitors Emirates and Etihad Airways who were both forced to suspend outbound flights from South Africa on November 29 following orders from UAE government officials.
The South African government has been highly critical of travel bans and other “knee jerk” reactions to the Omicron threat. The World Health Organisation has backed South Africa and has called for an end to crude travel bans that will do little to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant.
The variant has already spread to at least 57 countries and is likely to takeover from Delta within months.
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 relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.